Strike the Zither by Joan He – ARC Review!

The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.

But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.

Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged—while Ren’s honour draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one—and not all of them are human.

Rising Zephyr wants nothing more than to use her strategist powers to help her warlordess Xin Ren claim control over the Throne. Ren’s honour is what drew Zephyr too her, but it is also the thing that continually puts them in danger, especially in a war where it’s betray or be betrayed. But Zephyr has a secret she’s hiding even from herself, one that could help Ren to win the war, or doom them all. Three Warlodesses fighting for control of the throne, betrayal around every corner, and a strange but alluring boy that Zephyr can’t seem to stay away from are the dangers she faces daily, but the biggest one may be the one she doesn’t see coming, and it might not be wholly human.

Strike the Zither is SUCH a hard book to sum up without giving away spoilers. I’m sure if you’ve read the original story the story is based on, you will have an idea of the events, but for those of us going in blind, it’s a story filled with shocking plot twists, love, betrayal and honour. Rising Zephyr was a character whose determination weighed out all else about her. She isn’t afraid of being unliked, of working on the muggy sides of the war so that Xin Ren can keep her honour, of being see as a traitor to those she works with. She’s a character who you can never really get a grasp on. You know she has the best of intentions at heart, but her actions are harsh and her demeanour brash.

Because this story focuses more on the actual events of the plot, the strategy, the battles, we don’t quite get the exploration of the characters that I usually love. Following Zephyr through the story we meet multiple characters from members of Xin Ren’s war party, the people she is warring against as well as Crow, a rival strategist who Zephyr seems drawn too, but we never really get to explore these characters well enough to truly bond with them in any way. Normally, this is something that would take me out of the story, especially a story of war where death and betrayal await around every corner, but He’s writing style, the way she tells the story, ensures you stay glued to the pages despite the lack of character growth.

Strike the Zither reads like a classic hero story, someone overcoming the odds to ensure the honour and safety of those around them. How it weaves in fate, how individual choices can have far reaching consequences, the rise and fall of empires was beautifully done. He’s writing style reads like a classic tale in and of itself and it’s easy to see that it draws from classic literature. There are epic battle scenes filled with war cries and death, but some of my favourite scenes were reading Zephyr mentally and vocally talking through her strategist plans. We don’t always see her plan until it’s already in play, but I loved reading the scenes where she went into a kind of planning mode, hearing her logic for making certain decisions, especially when she knows those decisions could lead to death.

If you enjoy stories that delve into war and politics, have the perfect blend of battle and strategy scenes and aren’t too fussed about not getting a true deep dive into your characters then look no further. The plot twists in this story were outstanding and the ending left me desperate to get my hands on book 2.

6 replies »

  1. Hello may I ask if it’s a happy ending. I can take on heavy angst but not sad ending because it would break me for months, my mental health could not take it. I badly want to read it though, I just need warnings. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! I’m happy to help, it has more of an open ending than a sad one. There are moments throughout that are definitely a little sad, but I wouldn’t say the ending was at all. Hope this helps 😊


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