• The Good: Lesbian romance, exploration of colonialism and abuse
  • The Bad: Unearned character development; coarse plotting
  • The Literary: Vietnamese-inspired worldbuilding

Princess Thanh is in her first role as a diplomat for her home country of Bình Hải, but she’s haunted by memories of her mother sending her away to be a hostage in a faraway country, the royal palace burning down, and a clandestine first romance. Now back at home, Thanh’s first love the Princess Eldris is in her kingdom, demanding fealty and rekindling a romance with Thanh.

In this Vietnam-inspired historical fantasy, Thanh struggles with low self-esteem, never being good enough for her mother, finding her place, and valuing herself as someone worth receiving love. She’s also hiding a terrible secret—ever since the fire that burnt down Eldris’ castle, small items around Thanh spontaneously combust when she’s upset.

Thanh’s country struggles to maintain independence in the face of colonialism, and her mother is finally giving her a chance to prove her abilities as a diplomat. Having once lived in the country of Ephteria gives Thanh insights into their culture and values, and now that an Ephterian delegation is arriving in Bình Hải, Thanh must stand against the demands and threats.

Unfortunately, the story feels undeveloped and unfinished. At the beginning I wondered if this book is a middle volume in a series because of a lack of character depth. In the end, the plot and character developments don’t feel earned. Actions and emotions rely too heavily on telling instead of showing. The politics are simplistic, and the romance is worse.