A soldier with a curse
Tala lost her family to the empress’s army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress’s crimes don’t haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic… and her own flesh and blood.
A prince with a debt
Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption—or his downfall.
A detective with a grudge
Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery—but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She’s a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world’s most wanted prince.
A thief with a broken heart
Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime—and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward—she can’t say no, and soon finds she doesn’t want to leave the princess behind.
This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives—and begin to change the world.
My first thought when reading this was why has it taken me this long to pick it up. Described as Asian folklore, the last Airbender and Pokemon all rolled up in one this story has so many things in it to love. The Shang, Dahali and Sanbuna have risen up against their former conquerors and Tomoda is in Ruins. Some people want it restored to it’s former glory where as others would like nothing more than to watch it sink. The fate of these countries is in the hands of four people; A warrior with a task so important she has to put prejudice aside, a Prince who needs to return to his country alive, a Princess who wants nothing more than to become the next Empress and a thief who’s not quite sure how she ended up here. Non are aware how intricately their fates are entwined, but it will take them all working together soldier and Prince, Princess and thief to save the world from a threat no one saw coming.
One of the best things about this book was the magic system, it is wholly original, and you can definitely feel the Pokemon and Airbender vibes. Shang and Sanbu have a similar magic system, they are able to bond with animals in an act called ‘Shadepacting’ The Shades share a part of the persons soul, each knows what the other is thinking, and whilst Tomoda sees this as an affront to nature, classing the Shades as slaves with no power over their actions the Shang and Sanbu know different. Each person can only have one animal Shade and the bond between the two is unbelievably strong. Tomoda has it’s own magic system of ‘metalwork’, they are able to control metal, make guns have near impossible aim, control cars simply through touch etc. The Dahali are a people we see very little of in this book, though it is the first in a series so they might be explored in more detail later on. The Dahali have learned to make themselves faster, stronger and heighten their senses but their best power is the ability to project their own souls into another… makes for one hell of a hangover. The magic systems get brought to life through the story and we get some truly epic battle scenes that just fly off the pages.
This book is hilarious, in a way I really didn’t expect it to be, there are plenty of one liners as well as some top notch character interactions. But this book also delves into the aftermath of war, the prejudices that started it and how, in the end does anyone really come out the victor? We see Tala and Jimuro working together, each knowing that they have either personally or inadvertently caused the loss of loved ones and fellow countrymen. Xuilan and Lee also have a slightly tenuous relationship. We see them both come to the realisation that neither is truly evil, they are just both doing what they have to to survive.
The relationships in this book are brilliantly written. We have the ultimate slow burn, enemies-friends-lovers f/m romance as well as a fun and quirky f/f. We get to see people overcoming their prejudices as they have to work with each other and slowly buy surely coming to the knowledge that they not only respect them, but also like them in a romantic sense. Though the romance is between the four main characters it never overshadows the plot in anyway, in fact it adds an extra depth to it that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I have read somewhere that this is the first in a series but it can absolutely be read as a standalone. There is no cliff hanger ending and all the characters arcs are nicely tied up in a bow by the end. That being said I would love another chance to dive back into this fantasy world.