“Love is a magic all its own.”
From the acclaimed author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns comes a fantastical new tale of darkness and love, in which magical bonds are stronger than blood.
Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician’s apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao’s prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.
Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest’s Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that’s been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?
I have been aware of the hype around author Julie C. Dao for some time now, and I can only regret not reading her novels sooner. Her latest book Song of the Crimson Flower is a companion to the Rise of the Empress series but can be enjoyed on its own. I have had the privilege to read an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) for this blog tour and I’m already looking forward to reading Rise of the Empress next. I definitely need more of the same beautiful and lush setting showcasing Asian aesthetics. 😍
Song of the Crimson Flower for me is ultimately a tale of obsession in all its manifestations: love and power–as seen through a country’s thirst for war, magic, money and knowledge. I will try to discuss the facets of power first before we move on to the equally interesting romance between our main characters. Hopefully I can do it without much spoilers 😅
“Time doesn’t matter when it comes to love. It might come to two people who have only just met, but not to two others who have known each other for a century.”
Our story starts in a lovely city near a river in the Kingdom of the Sacred Grasslands. Its people go through their days and nights seemingly peaceful and without incident. But little by little we hear of talks about a war brewing farther south in the Gray City, a deadly disease, and of a legendary river witch.
I liked the portrayal of war and the use of weapons as something that is more harmful than helpful. Everybody suffers in times of war, regardless of who wins the battle.
I would have loved to see more magic. I’m really not satisfied in how there was only one source of magic in the book (and mild spoiler–we only get a spell and some visions). But I’m hoping to address this need by reading Rise of the Empress. If you’ve read it, please let me know in the comments how much you enjoyed it!
The book also touched on economic disparity (money), and the moments when Bao pondered on the differences between the rich and the impoverished really spoke to me and reflected my insecurities growing up in a poor family myself. Although it is already hinted throughout the story that Bao is destined for greatness, I still would have loved him just for being the hardworking healer that he was.
“Every move they made and every word they spoke indicated that the world belonged to them, while people like him struggled from birth to death and would never be good enough.”
Another major element in the book that resonated with me is the search for knowledge. It’s very rarely that I sympathize with an antagonist but my feelings got really confused with this novel because I understood the vision of the “villain.” This part of the story presents some really good points regarding ethical research, and how good intentions are never enough to justify bad practices. I won’t say anymore in fear of spoilers, so let’s move on to the romance.
“Love isn’t waiting for someone to remember me. Love isn’t dreaming about them all alone. Love is talking together, forgiving each other, finding common threads in the lives we want.”
The romance was a sweet and slow burn. The relationship between Lan and Bao demolishes the concept of finding The Perfect Person–s/he does not exist and it is foolish to expect so. Their story reminds us that people we love can’t always be the ideal girl/boy that we choose to see through rose-colored glasses. Real people will have weaknesses and shortcomings. Accepting another person as a whole is part of the commitment we make to our significant other.
To be honest, Lan appeared a bit selfish for me at first–not only because of that part where she had to ask why ex-convicts and people in rehabilitation deserved to receive health treatments. I almost agreed with Bao in thinking that she is only apologizing to him not because she is sincere, but because she just felt she needed to do so “if only to show them both that she wasn’t a terrible person.”
But I had to open my eyes and understand that she grew up in a sheltered world. The fact that she fell for Tam just shows how naive she is. Her lack of empathy is also most probably because she never had to fight for anything her whole life. To have her perceived love affair with Tam destroyed one moment and then proposed to on the next, I think she had every right to be angry with Bao. We all say things in anger that we regret afterwards all the time. The important thing is that we are always willing to change for the better.
I liked Lan’s character development through her journey. Her motivation to go on an adventure as influenced by her grandmother felt sincerely sweet for me. She is feisty, honest and very subtly feminist and I adore her for it.
“It is not my fault you made me into some ideal that never existed. It is not my fault you created some version of me that I wasn’t.”
Unconditional love can be such a cliché that I found the author’s take on it refreshing–for example, how Lan and Bao’s misunderstandings and mutual dislike lead them to true love. The family ties shown here are also not the type that is set in stone. The characters’ allegiance is always their own choice.
I love how this book continued to show how our obsessions can blind us to the truth and from the impact of our actions. We are reminded that there should always be an effort to step back, evaluate, and make sure we are using our brains as well as our hearts.
In the end, the recurring theme towards obsession is balanced out by forgiveness, second chances, and acceptance. This is the type of young adult reads that I love–seemingly sweet and straighforward but the underlying message is so complex as to encourage the young (and old!) readers to really think about what they just read and continue to talk about topics that are also relevant to modern society. As much as fantasy is an escape, I still believe that a well-written book should also reflect the reality beyond its pages. 💕
Overall Rating: 4/5
About the Author
Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.
Julie is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. Visit her website here.
Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao
Published November 5th 2019 by Philomel, Penguin Young Readers Group
Edition language: English
Genres: Fantasy | Young Adult | Romance
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Follow the Blog Tour
Special thanks to Julie C. Dao, Penguin Random House International, Raf and Erika for allowing me to be a part this blog tour. Do check out the other awesome bloggers lined up:
Erika from The Nocturnal Fey
Rafael from The Royal Polar Bear Reads
Jenny from Levicorpvs Blog
Bryan from Bryan Hoards Books
Michelle from Magical Reads
Jessica from Endless Chapters
Lana from Bibliomedico
Sumedha from The Wordy Habitat
Fatina from Amazing Distance
Myrth from Tales Past Midnight
Ruthsic from YA on My Mind
Prin from Princess and Pages
Rebecca from Bookingway Reads
Kathleen from The Last Reader
Shenwei from READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA
V from Lina’s Reviews: A Book Blog
Silvana from siilbookishpastrychef
Lili from Utopia State of Mind
Dexter from Dexterous Totalus
Maham from Shortcake Bibliophage
Leslie from Bibliophilekid
Jen from Jen D Bibliophile
Tiffany from Second Hand Pages
Shanice from Noellareads