- The Good: A dreamy, enchanting, and sweeping epic of a bildungsroman
- The Bad: Highly focused on a romantic duology that doesn’t quite work
- The Literary: Inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess
Growing up on the moon, the only other souls Xingyin knows are her mother and a housemaid. Often at night her mother stares for hours at the Earth. As a teenager, Xingyin’s learns that her mother has been hiding her from the Celestial Emperor who exiled her to the moon. Now, when her magic begins to flare, Xingyin must flee the only home she’s ever known. She makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, disguises her identity, works as a lady’s maid, and eventually seizes an opportunity to be the companion of the emperor’s son.
Xingyin learns of botany and potions and magic, but she excels most at archery. She keeps her real identity a secret, even from the prince, who becomes her best friend and eventual lover. But, most deeply, yearns to save her mother. When opportunity strikes, she embarks on several perilous quests as an archer in the army, eager to make a name for herself in the kingdom. She fights mythical creatures and enemies of the realm. But when she must steal the beloved pearls of dragons, many secrets unfold in succession, and Xingyin must walk a dangerous line, lest she lose everything.
For such a sweeping novel across time and worlds, the story moves along quite nicely. Just when you think Xingyin will keep a secret to her grave, she reveals it, and so new battles lines are drawn. The point of view centers quite closely on Xingyin, including the romance between her and the prince, and her and the commander of the army. She must balance her honor, those she loves, those who betray her, and maybe even letting a little hope in.
I love that the novel is based on a Chinese legend expanded with lush imagery and details. Unfortunately, the magic and mythology are more of a backdrop, without clear rules or structure. The quests are exciting but over quickly. Instead, the romantic duology is the center of the story, which in itself is full of tired tropes. If you’re in the mood for romantic angst, this could be just what you are looking for.
Recommended for fans of young adult-ish romantic fantasy!