Once, Lan had a different name. Now she goes by the one the Elantian colonizers gave her when they invaded her kingdom, killed her mother, and outlawed her people’s magic. She spends her nights as a songgirl in Haak’gong, a city transformed by the conquerors, and her days scavenging for what she can find of the past. Anything to understand the strange mark burned into her arm by her mother in her last act before she died.
The mark is mysterious—an untranslatable Hin character—and no one but Lan can see it. Until the night a boy appears at her teahouse and saves her life.
Zen is a practitioner—one of the fabled magicians of the Last Kingdom. Their magic was rumored to have been drawn from the demons they communed with. Magic believed to be long lost. Now it must be hidden from the Elantians at all costs.
When Zen comes across Lan, he recognizes what she is: a practitioner with a powerful ability hidden in the mark on her arm. He’s never seen anything like it—but he knows that if there are answers, they lie deep in the pine forests and misty mountains of the Last Kingdom, with an order of practitioning masters planning to overthrow the Elantian regime.
Both Lan and Zen have secrets buried deep within—secrets they must hide from others, and secrets that they themselves have yet to discover. Fate has connected them, but their destiny remains unwritten. Both hold the power to liberate their land. And both hold the power to destroy the world.
Now the battle for the Last Kingdom begins.
Lan is a girl with a secret. She spends her nights as a songgirl, singing for the Elantians who conquered her people and destroyed their way of life. But her days are spent searching for knowledge around the mysterious mark she has on her arm, a mark that only she can see, until she meets Zen. Zen, is one of the last practitioners, magic of the Last Kingdom that was banned when the Elantians took control. When they meet Zen recognises in Lan the marks of a practitioner, but the mark on her arm seems to be tempering her ability until she is in grave danger. Lan doesn’t overly trust Zen, but in him she see’s the only chance she has of finding out about this mysterious mark & what her mother meant by giving it her. They both hold the power to liberate their Kingdom, or destroy it, and they will have to decide where their loyalties lie because the battle for the Last Kingdom has arrived.
Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is filled to the brim with brilliantly brought to life characters, but the two we spend the most time with, and our only POV’s are Lan & Zen. Lan has spent most of her searching for answers. Where does she come from? Who was her mother? What is the strange mark on her arm only she can see? And why did her mother give it her as her last living act? But in a Kingdom conquered by a foreign army fuelled by dangerous magicians, she can’t risk asking the wrong person about ancient practitioning . She is incredibly strong & quick witted, but she is also just someone who desperately wants to protect the people she loves, whilst also finding out who she truly is. Zen is a boy with a big secret, a secret that could have cost him his life had he not been rescued by the Master of the last Hin practitioners. He is a quiet and contemplative person, but inside there is a rage that cannot stay tempered.
Zhao has based this book on Chinese mythology and Lore and it’s easy to get swept into the story. I do think that she spent a little too much time at the beginning of the book building the world and magic system up, instead of developing it naturally throughout the story, but the second half significantly picked up in pace and I found it nearly impossible to put down. I did enjoy learning about the Hin magic, especially around the 99 clans who each had their own specific magical style & hope that we get a deeper insight into this in book two. Everything in this book, the characters, the magic the world building is written as a criticism to imperialism, racism, cultural appropriation. We see the Elantian’s lack of complete care or empathy for the Hin way of life, instead almost bulldozing over it with their own laws, rules and way of life & I am looking forward to seeing this fight in the second book.
There was a slow burn romance woven throughout this story that, I wont lie, I didn’t massively feel. I think with how much time our two characters spent together there should have just been something more to their relationship, but it just seemed a little lackluster to me & I never found myself overly invested in it. However towards the second half of the book we do get introduced to some new characters, Zen’s fellow practitioners, and I enjoyed seeing all the non-romantic relationships come together as Lan spent more time with them. The side characters were never really given as much room to grow as I would have liked, but I’m hoping to see more of them in the next book & hopefully get more of those found family style vibes we got towards the end of this one.
Overall, I did enjoy this one. A few of the big plot points seemed a little easy for me, but Zhao’s foreshadowing and plot twists ensure that we stay on our toes & I am looking forward to the second book!