Well. This book was touted as one of the best of 2018 and it is nominated for a 2018 Nebula award for best novel. I didn't like it as much as the majority of people seem to have. I have read 5 of the 6 nominees and this was my least favourite of them. (Spinning Silver is the one I've not read.)
First off, let me say that the book is well-written read for all that.
My problem lies with expecting to see something new and different, but all I really saw were the same fantasy tropes that have been around forever. The orphan child with the mysterious background. The Chosen One. Hidden magical powers. Gods run amok. I think the only thing that was was even remotely new was that the book is set in an alternate historical China, or that's what I felt it was. I was disappointed, and even though, like I said, the writing was good, I found that disappointment colouring my read.
My other problem was with the protagonist, Rin, the orphaned peasant girl with the dark skin. This is her story, but I felt that things were just happening to her. I don't know that I felt her grow from her somewhat naive 16 years of age at the beginning of the book to her beaten, tortured, suffering (according to her words near the end of the book), 19 year old self. I was told that she did, but I never FELT it. At one point, she's yelling at one of her close friends, crying out that she's suffered fro so long, been beaten and tortured and betrayed and near killed etc... so she deserved getting her revenge, and I thought... but were you really? I was told she did, but.... I dunno, she never really came alive for me.
And you know, this book is rather grim-darkish. It's not promoted as such, but I think it really is. In the last third of the book, things get very violent and dark and at times just downright horrific.
So, anyway, I really didn't get what all the big excitement was about. Will I read the second book that's due out this summer? Probably, but I'm not in any rush
I thought the book was pretty good. I loved the world building and the History of the past wars. But I didn't really care about any of the characters. Rin drove me nuts, I felt like she rushed into a lot of things, without thinking things through first. I know people would say its because she's young. But I don't think that was the case, at least for things she does later in the book.
I really didn't like Altan either, and I wonder why Rin acted the way she did around him. There are a lot of trigger Warnings in this book, rape, torture, self harm, to name a few.
I did like it enough that I do want to read the next one, that comes out in August. Especially after how the book ended.
I would recommend this book, but look into all the other trigger warnings, that I didn't mention above, because there's definitely a lot more than what I did list.
Opium is an undercurrent of the Nikara empire. The war with the Federation of Mugen brought it to these shores and only the powers of the Trifecta, the Vipress; The Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper who went to the gods and begged for power, have kept the Mugen Federation at bay.
The Dragon Emperor is dead, decades later, the Gatekeeper is missing and the Vipress sits on the throne and the Mugen Federation is still a threat.
In this world war orphan Fang Runin finds herself having to make a choice. She can marry or she can fight for her right to be in the Military Academy in Sinegard. There she finds a lot of obstacles and powers she didn't realise existed. Powers that are officially forbidden.
There's a lot in here and a lot of things that you can see will have implications later in the series. It led to another bad decision book club moment where I kept "just reading to the end of a chapter" until I finished the book. There were a few moments where the bad decisions felt more plot driven than character driven but I'm sure this will be worked out in later books. It's going to be an interesting ride. There were interesting philosophical moments where the author was looking at belief and how magic and belief could be linked and how it could have implications when you didn't believe.
I hope there's a more human side of the Mugen Federation in later books because so far they're very single-minded and not very nice.