Review | Songs of Insurrection – JC Kang

About the Book

Only the lost magic of Dragon Songs can save the world. Only an awkward girl with the perfect voice can rediscover it.

The Dragon Singers of old summoned typhoons and routed armies, liberating mankind from the orcs before fading into legend. Now, with the world again facing a new cataclysm, the power of music stirs in Kaiya, an a naïve misfit with the perfect voice.

Without a master to guide her, she must rely on Hardeep, a disgraced foreign paladin, to help awaken her latent magic. His motives might not be entirely noble. When he leads her to the fabled Dragon Scale Lute, which only a Dragon Singer can wield, it is up to Black Lotus Clan to intervene.

Because the instrument’s fell power can save the world…

416 pages 
Published on January 5, 2021
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I was hired to proofread this series of novels.

One of my favorite things about my job is seeing books evolve. JC Kang’s books were a bit different than my usual, because I wasn’t hired to edit them, but proofread them, so they were already pretty done when they made their way to my desk. Regardless, I was absolutely swept away by the story being told, and the way he told it. There are a lot of nuances in Songs of Insurrection that I really enjoyed immensely (I am such a sucker for details), and an attention to detail on the author’s part that not only intrigued me but left a path of subtle eggs for me to follow throughout the novel. 

I love stuff like that. 

Songs of Insurrection is a unique amalgamation of fantasy with enough recognizable real-world cultural elements to keep any reader intrigued. There are elves, dwarves, and dragons of numerous kinds mentioned in the book. While not given overly detailed descriptions (and thus, never bogged down the plot), there’s enough there for readers to be able to understand the role each has in this world. These fantasy elements, however, are set against a backdrop that truly fascinated me, and this is really where Kang’s vision truly shines.

His world building is nothing short of incredible. With an obviously Chinese-inspired setting, there are also enough other cultures drawn from real world influence that you will undoubtedly recognize (India, for example). Furthermore, as with the real world, nothing in this one is simple. Layers abound, as Kang deftly avoids keeping anything surface-simple. Cultures clash. People say bad things about other people. Stuff can get ugly, and while that sucks, it is REAL and I appreciated Kang’s unflinching desire to show how ugly things can be in both overt and subtle ways. 

On the other hand, his world truly is beautiful, and there are quiet moments sprinkled throughout the book where you can truly see the author settling in to just appreciate the world and the characters he’s built. The relationships that form and evolve feel as realistic as the world they are set in. They aren’t easy, and there are conflicts and strife, misunderstandings and pain, but there are moments of intense beauty as well. I loved how Kang seemed to know exactly when to turn the screws, and when to back off and let the reader just enjoy the setting, and the characters in this extremely nuanced world of his. 

There are enough mentions of other places, other lands, and a much wider world that makes this entire book feel like it’s just one small piece of the whole. There’s a whole lot of room for Kang to spread his wings and explore, and not just that, but I found it fascinating how he used conflict, and consequence in this book. As in, something happens over here, but it impacts these people over there too. Like dominoes, nothing is untouched, and like our world, it’s a large, large place full of diverse peoples and unique cultures and I am honestly eager to explore more of it. 

The plot is relentless, and that’s another thing I enjoyed. While there are quiet moments, nothing in this book is wasted as it all comes barreling toward a magnificent ending. Kang has a way with building tension, but he also has managed to balance that with hope, and passion. This isn’t a book written using some formula. Kang put a lot of thought into not only the story, but how he tells it. He has a set of tools at his disposal, and, like a master craftsman, he knows exactly when and how to use which tool.

The characters in this book are young, and while that might make some readers thing YA fantasy, it’s really not. The themes here are fully adult, and some of the ways they are handled are as well. However, I actually thought the young age of the characters was a benefit to the story itself. As I’ve read further into this series, I’ve realized that one of the joys of it is growing right along with the young cast. They don’t stay young forever, and life twists them all up and changes them. A few years passes between this book and the next in the series, for example, and a lot of personal growth and development happens not just in the books, but between the characters themselves. I truly enjoyed that element of the story. We don’t just get to see the characters as they appear “now” but we get to grow with them as well. It gives the entire saga a level of intimacy that I just absolutely dug on every level.

One thing I really want to touch on involves the three main perspectives in this book, because I think what Kang did with them is genius. As in, each character sort of understands the world a completely different way than any other. Kaiya senses understand the world more through a soundscape, while Jie, for example, seems more keen on noticing smells than anything else. Then, you have Tian (who I just absolutely fell in love with) who was a sort of mix of both of those characters. While this might be a small detail people don’t notice unless they really think about it, the author did this on purpose, and he put a lot of thought into why and how to do this throughout his narrative. Honestly, I thought it was a superb way to draw on each character’s strengths. First of all, these three individuals are all so different, there’s no way to mix up their voices, or how they see the world. Secondly, the mixture of these perspectives actually weaves together a really dynamic, detailed understanding of not just what is happening, but the larger world as a whole. It is really rare that I come across three POV characters in a novel that are so completely different from each other but complement each other so well. 

So, where does this leave us? 

It should be pretty obvious that I loved this book. It’s a solid start to a very dynamic, fast moving, layered series. The characters are just as well-crafted as the world itself, and it’s a delight to grow and evolve with them as the series expands. Perhaps my favorite part of this book was the author’s passion, which infuses each and every page. He put so much thought into every aspect of this book, and I think it came together beautifully. 

Excellent start to a fantastic series. Highly recommended. 

5/5 stars