Once upon a time, while scrolling through professional photographers on Instagram speckled by the fan-crazed posts of book lovers and published authors alike, I stumbled across a little something called, Shelf Love Crate. Okay, that was partly a lie. What I really stumbled on was a picture someone posted of one of these boxes – included in it, a set of character tarot cards for V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series. The end result of my inquiring was the discovery of these little boxes.
Inside you get a hardcover copy of a new YA fantasy author, signed and snuggled all around it – all the best little trinkets any dork would love to have. Like those tarot cards – for example.
My box came in late August, featuring a signed copy of The Bird and the Blade, A Goblet of Fire maze puzzle, and coins from a Y.A. book I haven’t picked up yet but intended to at one point, Six of Crows.
The Bird and the Blade is a 401-page fantasy novel written by Megan Bannen that takes place in the Middle East during the time when Genghis Khan’s blood relatives remained fierce rulers. It follows the story of Jinghua, a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, and her struggle between finding her way home, and her growing love for prince Khalaf.
Synopsis: 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 ue the Kipchak’s exile to return home. A plane that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into an impossible love.
Jhingua’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.
Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom— 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.
Before we get into my thoughts on the story, let’s look at the writing craft. It was serviceable. I didn’t come across passages or sentences that made me pause to appreciate the hypnotic sound of the words on the page, but nothing that stoked my vengeful ego into proclaiming, ‘why, I could do better than that.’ either. (I have to admit, sometimes I like those sorts of books if only because it gets my butt in gear) Megan’s style carried the story along and made the character’s voices clear and their emotions unveiled. If I were to fault anything it was the few instances where the style seemed to break a bit to make way for much more modern phrases.
My favorite elements of the story were the shifts in the timeline. I can always appreciate a book that carries me, not on a straight and narrow path, but takes me on a journey through past and present. It reminds me of what it’s like when you get to know a person. Chances are you don’t sit down with them one day over coffee while they regale you with their life story. Bits and pieces are revealed as more trust is passed between you. Jinghua herself I found to be an easily relatable character. What she lacked in appearance, wit, and strength, she made up for in courage and loyalty.
As the story progressed I found myself more invested in her developing relationship to Khalaf’s father then to the dashing prince himself. You could also blame this on my recent feelings about romance in novels. For the better part of the first half of the book, she spent a lot of time talking about how pretty he is, and lingering on the one kindness he’d shown her in her time being a slave. There was development between the two as the story progressed, but I had a difficult time feeling for them and their romantic plight.
The riddles were interesting and well worded. My favorite being the first one:
She is the dragon with the iridescent wing
Stretched taught across the bleak and yawning void
To whom the hallow human heart must sing
When, with it, like a cat with prey has toyed.
She only lives in shadow’s heave hue
When, invoked by man, is night her reign.
So every dusk gives birth to her anew,
And every dawn destroys her once again.
I had almost solved that one.
The ending… I struggled with whether or not I wanted to write about this since it does contain spoilers. But, for those who read it and understand, the sun rose too quickly after the final curtain dropped. She could have held on.
All in all, I found it to be an enjoyable read. Not one I would go back to in the future, but one I’m glade for having finished.