ARC Review: Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

This is one of my most anticipated releases in 2021, so getting my hands on an advanced copy feels like a dream come true! For the first time ever, I’m including BOTH covers because I love the art. Just look at them:

Publication Information

  • Date of Publication: 12 October 2021
  • Publisher: HarperTeen (US) || Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
  • Age Category: Young Adult
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Cover Credits
    • Art (US): Zheng Wei Gu/GUWEIZ
    • Lettering and design (US): Catherine Lee
    • Art (UK): Aaron Munday

Goodreads || StoryGraph || Amazon

About the book

Girls of Paper and Fire meets The Tiger at Midnight in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, inspired by Chinese mythology, with rich magic and an epic slow-burn romance.

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 arcane magical abilities.

But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.

On-page representation: Author of color (Singaporean), worldbuilding inspired by Chinese history and mythology, POC characters, LGBT representation (F/F side pairing, M/M side pairing)

Trigger and content warnings: self-harm (gouging/eye horror; non-graphic), child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting), parent death (implied and off-page), character deaths, mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence), conscription of child soldiers, alcohol consumption, mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia


Review

There is nothing I love more than a good drama birthed by clashes in politics, socioeconomic classes, and forbidden magic, yet it’s not so often that I encounter a work fleshing out its context so carefully that all character motivations and choices are natural or logical consequences. Rarer still is a work that presents all of this beautifully wrapped in magic and softness, which this book does so well.

Jade Fire Gold follows the leaders scrambling to pull the wielder of power over life and death over to their side while an exiled prince bides his time before reclaiming his throne. It is a soft, haunting tale of magic, vengeance, and historiography with some fresh twists on the Chosen One trope.

Because the synopsis does not give away much in terms of plot, the readers are left to their devices in uncovering how deep the deception and intrigue goes. No one, not even the seemingly pure cinnamon roll characters are above betrayal. Even our protagonists are suspect. At first, I struggled to keep up with the complicated web of loyalties, associations, and secrets, but with reveal after reveal, I wish I hadn’t so that the betrayals would hurt less.

However, unlike other similar stories I’ve encountered, the brewing storm in court is not intrigue for the sake of intrigue, and this is where Jade Fire Gold shines. The whole narrative is rooted in questions on historiography and colonialism, and this book explores how everyone in power is complicit in erasure and inequality even if these choices are not made by the characters themselves.

Related post: Official maps and character art for Jade Fire Gold

Jade Fire Gold draws inspiration from a variety of sources, from familiar Chinese myths to more modern favorites like Avatar: The Last Airbender. For my fellow Zutara shippers, this is the book we never knew we needed! [If this isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what to tell you.] I love how much time we are given to get to know the characters, and if you’re a huge fan of comfort fics or domestic scenes, then we have that here in spades. These are all woven together into a new voice, a new story that is ready to take on the world.

The book mainly follows many of the conventions of xianxia and wuxia and pays homage to many of the beloved classics in these genres. There is even a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon joke hidden there somewhere. For newbies like me, it can lead to a bit of a slow start because it relies on many conventions and storytelling patterns that I am not quite familiar with. But with the help of Tan’s masterful writing and some Googling to sort out references, I am in for an emotional and magical ride. It also helps that the author’s stint at The Quiet Pond comes with a lengthy list of recommended series to check out. Can’t wait to dive into them!

Related post: Skye’s interview with June CL Tan on the trope of the Chosen One, cultural inspirations, and Asian media recommendations @ The Quiet Pond

However, the biggest drawback for me is the pacing of the plot. I wish some reveals have been situated either before or after where they are in the book, and that unevenness has me simply flipping pages to get by, only to rush back and reread them after some twists a few chapters later. I do think that for readers who are very much after action-packed, breakneck-paced books, this can get a bit boring. Sometimes there are not enough hooks to help hold my interest in the story, and it’s the main reason why I recommend this with reservations. I don’t regret spending all that *missed* time with the characters, though, and my attachment to them–I don’t have a favorite; I love them all–more than makes up for it.

This is the book that I recommend picking up when you just want to lose yourself in the softness of certain characters and their relationships, all while grappling with the realities of history and power.


Let’s chat:

  • Are you excited for this book? Scream with me in the comments!
  • Hello, Zutara fans. I love you. We are valid. Please make yourself known in the comments.

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