Monday, June 4, 2018

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen #Review #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss/Publisher
Genre: Young Adult  / Fantasy / Historical

Perfect for fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and The Winner’s CurseThe Bird and the Blade is a sweeping and tragic debut novel about Jinghua, a girl forced to serve an exiled prince as he seeks to form a marriage with a powerful and deadly princess—even as Jinghua is falling in love with him herself.

As a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom . . . until the kingdom is conquered by enemy forces and she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father across the vast Mongol empire. On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into an impossible love.

Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.

But Jinghua has kept her own counsel well. And she is no ordinary slave girl. With Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of . . . even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.

The Bird and the Blade is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from debut author Megan Bannen.

The Bird and The Blade is the debut novel from author Megan Bannon. The Bird and the Blade is a fascinating and utterly page-turning historical adventure set during the time when the Mongols ruled much of the known world. On a journey across kingdoms, hunted by Mongolian warlords, spies, and assassins who want them dead, Jinghua, Khalaf, and Timur Khan head toward a dangerous end and a chance for Prince Khalaf to try the riddles of Princess Turandokht and win her hand in marriage. 

If Khalaf fails, he will be executed. But each character has hidden secrets—and different motives—and readers soon learn that nothing is as it really seems. The Bird and the Blade is a retelling of an epic poem from ancient Persia, which is perhaps best known in the West as the source material for Puccini’s last opera, TurandotMegan turns the narrative on its head to reinterpret this epic story through the perspective of slave girl Jinghua—who is given agency, a dynamic and compelling backstory of her own, and a heaping serving of intelligence and wit and mystery.

While she may have taken a liberty or to two to fit her story, the novel is set to a fantastic setting as well as ripped from the history books characters, and places. From Mongolian deserts to the rivers and pagodas of the empire of the Song Dynasty, The Bird and the Blade is full of sweeping, epic nature and architecture that is both dangerous and beautiful. It is also a tragic story of love found, love lost, and a heartbreaking moment when the author really shows her mettle as an author to not do the expected, but the unexpected. 

She tells her story through events that happened in the past, as well as the present told through the eyes of Jinghua. She also keeps Jinghua's real identity a secret for almost the entire book. Even though you, the reader, know there is something more to her than just a lowly slave, it isn't until near the ending before we learn how Jinghua ended up as a slave. It is at this point that we can truly understand her motivations behind her actions. I admit that the ending blindsided me really badly. The turns and the ending (no spoilers here) come as truly unpredictable shock to my system! I am still reeling from the ending days later. 

The Bird and the Blade is full of lovable characters—from the brilliant yet sweet Prince Khalaf to his irascible, cranky father the deposed Khan Timur who really steals the show, to scheming, dangerous Chancellor Zhao, to beautiful and terrifying Princess Turandokht, and Jinghua herself—a whip-smart, funny, capable, and empathetic heroine. Each of these characters has a remarkable depth about them. They are able to carry the story by themselves, as well as their character's attitudes and expectations. 

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