Book Reviews, Fantasy, Teen

Review: Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

Her destiny. His revenge.

In an empire on the brink of war… Ahn is no one, with no past and no family. Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her lethal magical abilities. But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ahn lives on the fringes of the empire, where the desert has slowly been taking over the land because of a curse by the Tiensai, magic wielders that aren’t recruited by the empire’s Diyeh priests. Or at least, that’s what history says is causing it… the empire has also been at war with all of its neighbours, and its emperor has just died, leaving a young heir and a strict empress dowager. When Ahn, desperate to help her ill grandmother, steals the wrong thing and is chased by soldiers, she unleashes her own, terrible magic she has been hiding all these years, and is taken away to the capital: she is the Life Stealer, the only one who can wield a powerful weapon that can restore or destroy the empire. Altan is the son of the previous emperor, who was murdered by his brother, forcing Altan and his family to run; Altan is the only survivor and he has sworn vengeance. A chance encounter with Ahn pushes them on the same path and he realises he can use her power to restore his throne, though he knows that in the long run he cannot let someone as powerful as her live.

I kept thinking I knew where this story was going, but it kept surprising me, which I found very fun! I loved both Ahn and Altan, the two point of view characters, and loved watching their slow but inevitable fall toward one another, and the tragedy of it. I love me a bit of angst! But Jade Fire Gold has so much more than that; it’s vivid storytelling weaves politics, magic, legend, and love to make a perfect blend. Hardship and loss, too, play a big part; Ahn has lost her parents and all memory of them, Altan has lost his home and his family, and both will lose even more before the end. For such young characters, they are very hardy and the fact that they still manage to find hope and love amidst the pain was something I really enjoyed. There were also many Zuko-like moments when Altan was clenching his fists and talking of honour, which made me smile.

Some of the plotting and pacing at times felt a bit off, but overall I was swept up by the story and the world building. I hope we do get to explore more of the world of Jade Fire Gold in the future (and the last chapter seems to hint that we might) and if so, I would love to learn more about the other nations bordering the Shi Empire and maybe explore the Dragon’s Triangle again – Bermuda Triangle but with magic which appeals to my interests immensely. I would also love to see some of our side characters some more; Tang Wei, fearsome and snarky assassin, and her girlfriend Linxi, an undercover spy in the palace, and Leiye with his mysterious past and shifting loyalties. A really strong world with a really strong cast, and an author to watch out for, considering this is a debut.

Special shout out to the American cover: both UK and US editions are stunning.

Book Info

Published: 4th November 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: fantasy, YA
Pages: 464
Narration style: first person present tense, two narrators
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: death, blood, torture, grief

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