Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June CL Tan
US Cover: GUWEIZ
UK Cover: Aaron Munday
Release Date: Oct 12, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Teen
Book Purchase links:
In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.
CW: self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic), child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting), parent death (implied, off-page), character deaths, mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence), mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia, alcohol consumption
When I first heard of this book, I became interested because the author said it had Zutara from ATLA vibes as well wuxia/xianxia themes along with Chinese mythology inspiration. That was enough to add it to my tbr and I was delighted when I got the chance to participate in this blog tour.
So, I can’t actually count myself among the fans of ATLA because I never did finish it. But I know enough about the story and the characters, so any book with those vibes was gonna attract me. And I may have realized that I’m not that fond of xianxia dramas in general, but I definitely wanted to read books in the genre. However, I personally found this to be a bit more different. Yes, the xianxia elements are present along with elemental magic, but what surprised me was that this book was mostly a Chinese palace drama in book form. It has quite a few of the staple tropes – Royals conspiring to kill each other for the throne, puppet emperor controlled by other powerful people in the court, children planning years long revenge for their parent’s deaths and long lost parents and children being reunited. I could probably find more tropes if I looked for them, but all this was enough to make me feel delighted that I was reading this book. It was the double familiarity of a YA fantasy with the chosen one trope alongwith all the palace drama elements that made me very comfortable as soon as I picked it up and enjoy it throughout. The writing is great, with lovely evocative prose, lots of yearning, steady but not fast pacing and some tense moments peppered all through the story.
Ahn and Altan both are not very unique YA protagonists but we still come to like them pretty quickly. Ahn is a sweet girl who just wants her Ama to be safe and maybe find some respite from the poverty they are stuck with in their village in the desert. She never expects that she has a past and a destiny, one that could make or break her country and people. I thought the author depicted well her conflicts about her monstrous power and whether she should use it, whether she can leave it all behind or does she have a responsibility due to her power. While finding answers to her questions, she grows from an innocent girl to someone who understands the big picture and what sacrifices might be required for the greater good.
Altan on the other hand knows what he wants – revenge. He may not say it out loud, but he also wants his place as the rightful heir to the throne. And he is ready to sacrifice anything for his endeavor. But as the story goes on, he comes to realize – rather dangerously – that there are many things and people he actually isn’t ready to sacrifice or hurt, and how getting his revenge will not reduce his grief over losing his parents.
In a way, both of them are a perfect complement to each other, considering themselves as monsters due to their decisions or actions, but slowly realizing that they understand and see each other perfectly, for the flawed people they are trying to do their best in critical circumstances. Their romance isn’t exactly a slow burn but I definitely think it could have been executed a bit differently, to make their feelings for each other more convincing. It was actually hard to understand why they fell in love despite me as a reader knowing that they would be good together.
The side characters in this book are also quite memorable, even if not everyone gets enough page time. Tai Shun is not the image he projects and I found him to be such a lovely boy. Linxi is a good friend and I loved her interactions with Ahn, but her squealing about her girlfriend was the best. Leiye was a mystery to me for the most part but he really shined at important moments. The villain probably was a slight disappointment because he is very stereotypically bad but I didn’t bother much about him. But the one who steals the show is Tang Wei, who is a badass assassin with a biting sense of humor and her banter with Altan was the most fun part of the story. And everytime she called him a stubborn water buffalo, I was immediately reminded of Lin Shu and Fei Liu calling Jingyan “shuǐniú” in Nirvana in Fire, and it just made me more happy.
In the end, I had a lot of fun reading this book. It has interesting characters, a cool history of the world as well as magic, and lots of fun dialogue. I was also extra glad that this was a standalone because I’m getting tired of waiting for sequels, but I had my eyes wide while reading the last scene because it’s the perfect segue for a sequel if the author ever wants to write one. And if you are a YA fantasy reader who also enjoys Chinese palace dramas like me, don’t miss this one – I have a feeling you’ll really find this worth the read.
PS: Thank you to Caffiene Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with the advance copy and this blog tour opportunity. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.
About the Author
June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel.