About the Book
Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs.
But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls. In the woods snaring rabbits one day, she finds instead the Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, wounded, in the gooseberry brush. When the Pretender Emperor’s men arrive to kill Ashikaga, Lily, desperate, sings a forbidden Jindo song.
The song wakes a powerful spirit – as well as Ashikaga’s interest. The prickly lord has hidden secrets of his own and a burning desire to prove himself to his father. He will stop at nothing to defeat his father’s greatest enemy.
All Lily wants to do is take care of her sisters. But the Pretender-Emperor’s forces are drawing near, and now the Daimyo’s son knows she communes with Jindo gods. She wants to trust Ashikaga when he swears he will not tell her secret, but he is a noble – and Lily only a peasant. Lily’s heart is leading her down a dangerous path. She may have to defy her father, Ashikaga, and even the spirits themselves in order to defeat the Pretender-Emperor’s magic and keep safe all that she loves.
This is an SPFBO finalist.
I’ve put off reviewing this book. I’m just going to say that up front. I really struggled with this one, which disappointed me immensely because I was so set to love it. A gender-bending, LGBT romance set in the Far East? Hell yes. Sign me up. So, when this book, which is shorter than 300 pages, felt like I was trying to read War and Peace or something, I really felt a stab of guilt and disappointment.
Now, before I continue on, I need to put up my timeless disclaimer. I do not set the standard for what a good book is. I am not here to tell you if a book is good or bad. I’m here to tell you if I enjoy the books I read and why/why not. Just because I don’t (or do) like something, does not mean that it’s not worth trying out, and it does not mean that you can’t feel completely different than me.
I’m saying that because, while I really struggled with this book, I can see how it would really appeal to certain readers. In fact, I’ve already recommended it to two friends of mine, who I’m pretty sure will dig it. So, understand, I think this is one of those books you’ll either love or hate. There seems to be very little gray area or middle ground on this one, and that’s okay.
Anyway, the magic system and cultural influence were very well done. Everyone is born in a certain year, and the animal that year has a strong influence on the character themselves. That’s really interesting. There’s samurai and songs, and power, political issues, and yes, gender-bending. Though, to be honest I think it’s more than gender bending and solidly LGBT. All of that is really awesome, and incredibly well thought out and developed. Added to that, some absolutely superb writing, very polished prose, and you’ve really got a recipe for something great. There aren’t enough fantasy books set in the Far East and not nearly enough that fall in the LGBT area. Representation is important, and I think it deserves to be celebrated.
With all that said, there’s huge potential for this book to really break through the crust and hit an audience that really wants something exactly like this and make a big splash. But…
The problem is the protagonist. Told in the first-person POV, this book is one where the reader experiences all of this through Lily’s experiences. She, from what I can gather, has some anxiety issues? Maybe depression as well? I’m not sure. The problem isn’t the fact that she’s anxious or depressed. That’s fine, and I tend to love characters who gnaw holes in their souls, but Lily’s constant inner monologue, this never-ending woe-is-me diatribe, and oppressive worries (yes, oppressive. They bogged down the plot and impacted my interest level quite a bit), and then worrying about her worries just did me in.
It was too much.
Anxiety and depression are part of life, and I love characters who reflect that, but in the end, I just really felt like all her worry and anxiety was more navel-gazing and gratuitous than anything else, and man did it make 277 pages feel like 2077. It distracted from the character development until I just lost interest. So, a vibrant world full of possibility, fantastic cultural development, and characters that, let me be honest here, I really couldn’t stand.
I’m sorry. I hate writing reviews like this, but there you go. That being said, if you’re into deep dives into a protagonist’s mind, and Far East cultures, interesting magic systems, and some gender-bending, then look up this book, because it might be the exact thing you’re looking for.
3.5/10 (SPFBO rating)