“It was somehow beautiful, … lovely and terrible all at once.”
Rin was a war orphan, a shop girl, poor and unloved. the only way to get out of that life is to marry an old man or get an education. She does not want to marry a man who is three times older than she is, and she does not have the money for a tutor, but she studies on her own, endlessly, to get herself into the highest-ranking military academy in the empire. Once at the academy, she must deal with the prejudices that other students hold against her. She is too dark, too poor, a girl. They judge her for everything that is until she shows them what she can do. That she is committed and willing to learn the powers of those used by shamans. She is willing to end the war that is yet to come.
These characters are not likeable in the slightest, but I could not help but care for them. I was so scared for them and just emotionally connected overall. No one was black or white, these characters were realistic with strengths and weaknesses. Rin was the one that was an annoyance to me at first, but she did develop more and more throughout the course of the story. I do love the feminist vibes of her though, the woman wanting power and going after what she wants was amazing to read. I have never read a story with a female character like that I am honestly shocked by how much she developed as a character. At first, I did not think this was a character driven story, I am still not sure if it’s more character or plot but for the most part the characters were well written. I did confuse a lot of the ‘Cike’ guys as I feel like none of them had any real defining traits and just blended into one another. I am impressed with how the main characters developed throughout the novel, though.
I was not a fan of the school setting in part one of the story. I did not realize that I am not a fan of academy settings in fantasy until this one. There was nothing wrong with it, but I just found it boring as we were just following a tedious routine. Though, as Rin learned with her studies, the reader did as well and it was a good form of world building. However, I am fascinated how this is inspired by Asian history, the Second Sino-Japanese War, as I do not know much about that part of history, so I am going to read up more on that now that I have finished the book.
Again, with the first part, the writing was not special and just felt tedious. I was constantly looking to see how much more of the chapter I had left. Just wanting it to end. Then, we get to part two and in the middle of a war. This book just changed completely once we got to that part. The reader is given lyrical and beautiful scenes that can be vividly imagined. Part two is filled with great dialogue, in my opinion the character of Altan had the best dialogue of the whole book. In part three, we randomly get a scroll, I think this was out of place and not necessary. The writing has a sudden snap between parts one and two but boy am I glad that it did. Kuang really knows how to show the brutalities of war. I have not seen a writer in television or in novels showcase it in such a brutal, dark, and realistic way. She was not afraid of what she was writing.
As stated before, the plot in the first part of the story really slogged by. Get to the second and third part, it flew by, and I was shocked by how fast that I was getting through one hundred pages. This was not predictable; I am looking through my annotations and so many of my theories were wrong! That is fun though because it was a constant page turner and all the twists made sense. The main themes of the story to me are the cruelty of war and what war can do to a person, to a society. The reasons that this book is not getting a five star or even a four and half is because the way that part one was paced and then chapter twenty-three and twenty-four just kind of lost me. I did not like that part of the story.
The main characters are well developed and a new edition to the adult portion of the fantasy genre. No one was black or white, these characters were realistic with strengths and weaknesses. The reader will never expect the people these characters become. The setting did not play a huge role in the story; however, the school setting and the characters learning was a good way to show world building. The author really knows how to show the brutalities of war. I have not seen a writer in television or in novels showcase it in such a brutal, dark, and realistic way. The first part of the story was very slow and then the middle and end were fast paced. I wish the pacing was arranged better. I will be continuing this series, I hope that we can see this story brought to a screen, one day soon.
4 out of 5 stars.