Tag Archives: Fantasy

[Blog Tour] Review for Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

Hi everyone, I’m back for another blog tour, this time for Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao. The tour is hosted by Rafael (The Royal Polar Bear Reads) and Erika (The Nocturnal Fey). I was excited for this release and tour since I really enjoyed both of Julie’s previous books, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. I reviewed FOTL back in 2017, so if you want to check out that review, here’s the link.

Song of the Crimson Flower

Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns comes a fantastical new tale of darkness and love, in which magical bonds are stronger than blood.

Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician’s apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao’s prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.

Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest’s Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that’s been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?

This story was different in tone from the first two Rise of the Empress books, but it had its own appeal. It’s a lot quieter, in my opinion, but not in a bad way. It’s a beautiful story about the power of love, both familial and romantic.

One of the major themes of the book is the discrepancy between expectations and reality when you’re infatuated with someone. Both of the main characters, Bao and Lan, deal with a painful awakening when the person they admired turns out not to be the person they imagined in their head. In the aftermath of this pain, the two begin to learn what love with substance looks like.

The relationship between Lan and Bao goes through a lot of change throughout the story. It starts out as a one-sided infatuation on Bao’s part, and there is a rift between Lan and Bao because Bao helped Lan’s crush deceive her. There’s a very tangible awkwardness between the two as they begin their journey, but gradually, the two are brought closer together not only by their shared quest to break the curse on Bao but a openness to giving the other person a chance. It’s a very subtle and tender relationship that touches the heart.

I really liked Bao’s character. If you’re looking for soft boys, Bao is a perfect example. His defining feature is his kindness and compassion for others, which shows in his work as a physician’s apprentice. He’s also a romantic who loves music and poetry and expresses himself through these things. One of his greatest desires is a family and a place to belong, making him a very sympathetic character.

By contrast, Lan comes off as a bit spoiled and naive at first, but she becomes more likable as the story progresses. Though she may not have any extraordinary magic or fighting skill, she does have a good heart and is willing to do what she must to help Bao.

Besides the romance, another of the engaging aspects of the story is the exploration of family ties. Bao starts off not knowing any of his blood relations but later learns his mother is still alive and waiting for him to reunite with her. However, his desire to connect with her and be loved by her conflicts with his own sense of morals after learning her history and her current activities (I won’t spoil what exactly she’s doing, but it’s not pretty). He has to make some tough choices about his family’s legacy.

While Song of the Crimson Flower is a companion novel to two other books, it does work as a standalone. I personally think reading the Rise of the Empress duology first will make for a deeper appreciation of the book because it includes some supporting characters whose backgrounds are explored in the original duology. Plus, if you read this book first, there will be some spoilers since it takes place after the events of the original duology.

About the Author:

Julie C Dao author photoJulie C. Dao (www.juliedao.com) is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

 

Author links:

Website – http://www.juliedao.com/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15215228.Julie_C_Dao
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/juliecdao

Book links:

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32605126-song-of-the-crimson-flowerAmazonhttps://www.amazon.com/Song-Crimson-Flower-Julie-Dao/dp/1524738352
Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/song-of-the-crimson-flower-julie-c-dao/1130550411
Book Depository – https://www.bookdepository.com/Song-Crimson-Flower-Julie-C-Dao/9781524738358
IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781524738358

 

[Blog Tour] Review for The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m back again to participate in the blog tour for The Never Tilting World, hosted by Caffeine Book Tours, which is run by Shealea.

The Never Tilting World

BOOK INFORMATION

Title: The Never Tilting World
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 15 October 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Frozen meets Mad Max in this epic teen fantasy duology bursting with star-crossed romance, immortal heroines, and elemental magic, perfect for fans of Furyborn.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

Review:

The synopsis set up a lot of expectations, and by and large, I think the book delivered what was promised. The story was a rollicking ride from start to finish. I read the ARC in ebook format, so I was surprised when I saw that the page count was around 500 pages because it didn’t feel like it because of the swift pacing.

It’s not mentioned in the synopsis, but the story is told in four different points of view, one for each of the characters mentioned in the final paragraph, all of them in first-person. I think the author did a good job of using the alternating POVs to enhance the storytelling, especially in terms of revealing/withholding key information that created dramatic irony and narrative tension. The POVs were like pieces of a puzzle; assembling them allowed for a clearer and deeper understanding of the world, the web of characters, and the histories/mythologies that were scattered and lost or hidden in the process of the Aeon’s Breaking.

To talk a little more about the characters: Odessa and Haidee were interesting to me because even though they are literal goddesses with superpowers beyond what everyone else can do, they’re still fallible, and their agency is limited by their respective environments. They are not all-knowing or all-powerful, they’re just teens trying to figure shit out and do the best they can with what resources they have. Their immense power is balanced out by an immense personal responsibility for literally saving the world. Because the bigger picture stakes of the story are so intimately bound up in the characters’ personal stakes, the stress on them is enormous, which makes for great character development arcs.

As for the other two characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find two disabled characters being front and center in the story. I definitely connected with Tianlan, Odessa’s bodyguard and the de facto leader of Aranth’s mission to the Great Abyss. Her past experience on a similar journey traumatized her, leaving her with PTSD. Her psychological struggles were relatable to me as someone who has mental illness as well. I appreciate that the story treated her and her illness with care and compassion and that the worldbuilding acknowledged the existence and impact of mental illness alongside other physical or even magical ailments.

Then we have Arjun, orphan, amputee, and snark-master extraordinaire. He’s practical and cynical, a survivor down to the bone, more invested in the here and now than any abstract future. At first he’s ready to take revenge for the climate disaster on the goddess Haidee, but slowly, reluctantly, he finds himself choosing hope and believing that they can fix the world. He’s the kind of underdog that you can’t help but root for.

Another strength of the book is the worldbuilding. Aeon is a world of extreme contrasts, a world of beautiful chaos, and the details and description in the story provide breathtaking visuals for both the physical setting (the two cities as well the surrounding wastelands and the frightening and fascinating creatures that inhabit them) and the elemental magic system. The author wasn’t afraid to push the envelope and go wild with the aesthetics, so I think this story would be perfect for an animated movie adaptation.

For those who love a good romance, there are not one but two romantic pairings and subplots in The Never Tilting World, one f/f, the other m/f. The f/f romance features the guard/princess dynamic, while the m/f has two bickering strangers-turned-allies forced to cohabitate in a small space together. I personally found the f/f romance more compelling, probably because it has more emotional baggage and angst attached to it stemming from trust issues and conflicts of interest. However, both relationships had their tensions and buildup.

And for those who aren’t really as interested in romance, there is plenty of non-romantic plot and character development, including some interesting twists. I hope you get the same emotional journey out of this book that I did.

Content/Trigger Warnings: PTSD, ableist language, references to sexual assault, sex (non-graphic)

About the Author:

Rin Chupeco author photoRin Chupeco has written obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and done many other terrible things. She now writes about ghosts and fantastic worlds but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. She is the author of The Girl from the Well, its sequel, The Suffering, and the Bone Witch trilogy.

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.

Author links:

Author website —https://www.rinchupeco.com/
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7055613.Rin_Chupeco
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/rinchupeco
Pinterest — https://www.pinterest.com/rinchupeco/
Twitter —https://www.twitter.com/rinchupeco 

Book links:

Amazon — https://amzn.to/2kMphSI
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Never-Tilting-World/9780062821799
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36321739-the-never-tilting-world

Don’t miss out on the other stops on the blog tour:

Tour Schedule (The Never Tilting World)

Also, if you have the time, join us for the end-of-tour Twitter chat about The Never Tilting World:

Twitter Chat Info (The Never Tilting World)

 

Review for Caster by Elsie Chapman

Caster

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My review is based on an uncorrected proof, which may be different from the finalized version that releases on September 3rd, 2019.

Synopsis:

If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might.

Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.

When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.

When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently.

My Review:

I’m writing this review barely an hour after finishing, and my first thoughts after finishing were, “I need to go lie down.” I mean that in the best sense, by the way.

Honestly, whoever said urban fantasy is dead needs to take a seat and maybe read one by an author of color, which, in this case, means Caster. I read the entire book in a single sitting because the story grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. It was incredibly fast paced and suspenseful, and I couldn’t put it down. There were many twists and developments that surprised me, and that ending really had me speechless as well as clamoring for more.

Although I was worried at the very beginning because I was dumped straight into an unfamiliar world with a lot of information hitting me, I quickly found my bearings and didn’t feel weighed down by the worldbuilding. According to the author, the story is set in a city based on Vancouver, and I was able to pick up on some of the clues to that in the way geographical elements were named as well as the presence of a substantial ethnically Chinese population. The way the author characterized the city was atmospheric and haunting, like the looming shadow of a very possible future brought about by climate change.

The magic system in this book was very distinctive and easy to follow. As the synopsis states, there’s a price to magic, both on an individual level as well as an environmental level. Using and overusing magic can take an incredible permanent–and even fatal–physical toll on the user as well as the earth itself, giving the magic-using characters’ actions a tangible sense of weight and consequence. The way magic and its aftereffects were described engaged of the senses, so I didn’t have any trouble imagining it in my head.

If I had to pitch this book using comp titles, I’d call it Warcross meets The Hunger Games. The heroine, Aza Wu, enters a high-stakes competition out of desperation to help her family and ends up in over her head. I was on the edge of my seat dreading the obstacles that would be thrown at her next and wondering how the hell she was going to survive them. Like both of the comp titles, Caster features special arenas for the competitions, but generated by magic rather than being real (Hunger Games style) or virtual reality (Warcross). It would be super cool if this book were made into a movie (*stares at entertainment companies*).

Aza, the protagonist, made for a fascinating character because of her willingness to take immense risks. I sometimes think maybe I’m a bit too impulsive for my own good, but watching Aza try to bluff and lie and gamble every step of the way, I wanted to scream because all of my danger alerts were going off. However, she isn’t just bold, she’s also smart and resourceful and mentally tough, so I never once considered giving up on her as a character.

Although the book isn’t primarily about Aza’s Chineseness, her cultural background still played a part in her story and her characterization in various ways. Her family owns a once-prestigious traditional tea shop that’s been passed down through generations and across continents, and her pride in this legacy is a contributing factor to the stakes of the book because she wants to keep alive the languishing business. In addition, while Aza isn’t perfectly obedient to her parents, she’s still very loyal to and considerate of them and how her actions might affect them and does everything she can to protect them, even if it’s to her own detriment. And among the main antagonists in the story is a Chinese gang with a deeply intertwined, albeit parasitic, relationship with the Chinese community of the city. Although the setting is fictional, it definitely draws on real histories and present realities where coethnics in diaspora both help and prey on one another.

Among the main themes of the book are revenge and power and whether they’re worth the cost. The experiences and decisions of different characters and the lasting effects engage with this question from different angles and made me think about what I’d do if I were in their position. So aside from being entertaining, this book is also a thought-provoking read regarding ethics on an individual and societal level.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a dark, thrilling read with a strong heroine and vivid setting, Caster is a book to check out.

Content/trigger warnings: blood, violence, death/murder

[Blog Tour] Review for Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim + Giveaway

Hi, everyone! I’m super thrilled to be one of the first stops on the blog tour for Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. This book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 and I’m glad I got a chance to read an advance copy.

Spin the Dawn
Title: Spin the Dawn
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 09 July 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Synopsis:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.
And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

Review:

I’m happy to report that Spin the Dawn lived up to my expectations. It was a gorgeous read from start to finish, filled with with evocative language that painted pictures in the imagination. My favorites were probably the descriptions of the clothes Maia created and the food she ate. Even though food wasn’t the main focus of the story, it still made an impression and contributed to the worldbuilding.

Overall, the worldbuilding was immersive and familiar due to its Chinese inspirations. The symbolism, the clothing, and yes, the food were all recognizable to me, and it was extremely satisfying to see those things normalized because they’re so often othered and treated as exotic decorations in fantasy.

The protagonist, Maia, was someone I couldn’t help but root for. She holds her family close to her heart and wants more than anything for them to be happy. (I’m a sucker for stories that center family ties.) At the same time, she has her own ambitions and dreams as a tailor, and as a fellow creator, I could relate to those sentiments.

If you love the classic quest fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, as Maia undertakes a journey to collect three magical items, each entailing a trial of some sort. Her physical journey is also an emotional and mental one, contributing not only to her greater goal but also to her growth as a character.

The romance in this book took some time to develop, which wasn’t a bad thing at all, in my opinion. I enjoyed the banter between Maia and Edan and their awkward but sweet steps toward greater intimacy. Something about their dynamic kind of reminded me of Sophie and Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, but that could be because of something about Edan that’s a spoiler that I can’t talk about in detail. (Ha.)

The ending of this book was a surprise/twist for me and quite an interesting development that left me hungering for more, and now I can’t (but will have to) wait for the sequel, Unravel the Dusk.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Lim author photo

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Author Links:
Author website (and newsletter): https://www.elizabethlim.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6926374.Elizabeth_Lim
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elimpix/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/elizabethlimbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LizLim

Book Links:
Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VDCPwp
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Spin-the-Dawn/9780525646990
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36683928-spin-the-dawn

Don’t miss the remaining stops on the blog tour:

Tour Schedule (Spin the Dawn)

At the end of the tour, there will be a Twitter chat about Spin the Dawn. Feel free to join in on the discussion.

Twitter Chat Invite (Spin the Dawn)

Last, but not least, you can enter the giveaway for one of three (3) finished copies of Spin the Dawn using the link below:

Scope: Open to international.

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/950d261633/

Magic Number 3: SFF YA Trilogies by POC and Indigenous Authors

Even though POC and Indigenous authors are finding success in SFF YA more so than in the past, it’s still hard to find longer series by POC and Indigenous authors, especially ones that are #ownvoices or feature POC and Indigenous characters. I can only think of one prominent SFF YA series by an author of color featuring protagonists of color that’s longer than three books, and that’s An Ember in the Ashes, which is planned for four books total (Book 4 is coming in 2019). Anyway, in order to put the spotlight on some SFF YA series by POC and Indigenous authors, I decided to put together this post of trilogies because I seemed to come across a lot of them in my reading journey. Three is the magic number, I guess. (Note: I’ve included some series that only have 3 books announced so far that may end up being longer.)
Completed Series

 

The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. Legend
  2. Prodigy
  3. Champion

 

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star

 

Blood of Eden by Julie Kagawa (Japanese American)

  1. The Immortal Rules
  2. The Eternity Cure
  3. The Forever Song

 

The Feral Trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation)

  1. Feral Nights
  2. Feral Curse
  3. Feral Pride

 

The Prophecy Series/Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh (Korean American)

  1. Prophecy
  2. Warrior
  3. King

 

The Vicious Deep Trilogy by Zoraida Córdova (Ecuadorian American)

  1. The Vicious Deep
  2. The Savage Blue
  3. The Vast and Brutal Sea

 

The Dove Chronicles by Karen Bao (Chinese American)

  1. Dove Arising
  2. Dove Exile
  3. Dove Alight

 

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki Nation)

  1. Killer of Enemies
  2. Trail of the Dead
  3. Arrow of Lightning

 

Penryn and the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee (Korean American)

  1. Angelfall
  2. World After
  3. End of Days

 

The Tribe Series by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Palyku Nation)

  1. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
  2. The Disappearance of Ember Crow
  3. The Foretelling of Georgie Spider

 

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Puerto Rican)

  1. The Girl at Midnight
  2. The Shadow Hour
  3. The Savage Dawn

 

Forget Tomorrow Trilogy by Pintip Dunn (Thai American)

  1. Forget Tomorrow
  2. Remember Yesterday
  3. Seize Today

 

Ruined by Amy Tintera (Mexican American)

  1. Ruined
  2. Avenged
  3. Allied

 

The Beyond the Red Trilogy by Ava (now known as Gabe) Jae (Latinx)

  1. Beyond the Red
  2. Into the Black
  3. The Rising Gold

 

The Sea of Ink and Gold Trilogy by Traci Chee (Asian American, not sure of exact ethnicity)

  1. The Reader
  2. The Speaker
  3. The Storyteller

 

The Effigies Series by Sarah Raughley (Black)

  1. Fate of Flames
  2. Siege of Shadows
  3. Legacy of Light

Ongoing Series

 

The Timekeeper Trilogy by Tara Sim (Indian American)

  1. Timekeeper
  2. Chainbreaker
  3. Firestarter (out January 15, 2019)

 

The Bone Witch Trilogy by Rin Chupeco (Filipino)

  1. The Bone Witch
  2. The Heart Forger
  3. The Shadow Glass (coming out March 1, 2019)

 

The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel Jose Older (Cuban American)

  1. Shadowshaper
  2. Shadowhouse Fall
  3. Untitled, TBA

 

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigerian American)

  1. Akata Witch
  2. Akata Warrior
  3. Untitled, TBA

Children of Blood and Bone

Legacy of Orïsha by Tomi Adeyemi (Nigerian American)

  1. Children of Blood and Bone
  2. Children of Virtue and Vengeance (coming out March 5, 2019)
  3. Untitled, TBA

Mirage.jpg

Mirage by Somaiya Daud (Moroccan American)

  1. Mirage
  2. Court of Lions (coming out 2019)
  3. Untitled, TBA

A Spark of White Fire

The Celestial Trilogy by Sangu Mandanna (British Indian)

  1. A Spark of White Fire
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

For a Muse of FIre

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig (Chinese American)

  1. For a Muse of Fire
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

Upcoming Series

These series titles are simply the name of the first book since that’s all the info we have on them for now.

The Tiger at Midnight

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (Indian American)

  1. The Tiger at Midnight (out April 23, 2019)
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao (Chinese American)

  1. Blood Heir (out June 4, 2019)
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

[Blog Tour] Character Playlists for The Speaker by Traci Chee

Hi again, everyone! In case you didn’t know, The Reader by Traci Chee was one of my favorite books of 2016 (see my review here). The Speaker, which is Book 2 in the trilogy, was one of my favorite books of 2017. The final installment, The Storyteller, is coming out next Tuesday the 13th (in the U.S.).

For the purpose of promoting The Storyteller and its prequels, I signed up for the official blog tour and put together two playlists of five songs each for Sefia and Archer, the two main characters of the series, based on The Speaker and The Reader.

There will be some spoilers involved in the synopsis for The Speaker and my commentary for the songs I chose, so reader discretion is advised. If you have read The Reader and The Speaker, hopefully you’ll enjoy this tribute, and if you haven’t read them [yet], it’s never too late to join the fandom. 🙂

The Book

The Speaker

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.

The Author

Traci Chee

Traci Chee is an all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts. She studied literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog. The Speaker is the second book in the Sea of Ink and Gold trilogy that began with The Reader.

The Playlists

Note: Clicking on the hyperlinks will redirect to YouTube where you can listen to the songs. The translated lyrics I’ve included correspond to the parts of the song that resonate the most with the story and the characters’ feelings. All lyrics translations were done by me unless otherwise specified. Please do not use my translations without my explicit permission.

Sefia’s Playlist

Arranged to arrive on this Earth, yet separated in en route
Are the roads we walk the same?
Looking at the same radiant sun, I suddenly have a premonition
Long-estranged strangers will meet each other

Perhaps it’s that your smile has a similar curve to mine
Perhaps it’s because the constellation you guard is the same as mine
Perhaps it’s that the endless night is especially lonely
So leaning back to back, we wait for dawn

If the night is not dark, why yearn for beautiful dreams?
The breaking of dawn will be the ultimate reward for those who persist
If the night is too dark, then we will close our eyes and gaze
Hoping that if it doesn’t extinguish, it will brighten into starlight in the heart

The first time I encountered you, the overcast sky obscured your side profile
Whatever stories you had, I longed to understand
I feel I understand your uniqueness

Your heart has a wall, but I’ve discovered a window
Sometimes revealing a trace of warm glimmering light
Even if you have a wall, my love will climb onto the windowsill and bloom
Opening the window, you’ll see the sorrow dissolve

Because we can’t fly
The voyage to happiness is long
Inevitably, there are storms ahead of us
That will try to tear apart our tightly gripped hands
If you aren’t afraid, you aren’t troubled, then I won’t fret

When we’ve crossed over the ocean of love
We’ll celebrate that we ultimately never gave up or backed down
On the flourishing shore, the glistening teardrops from the along the way
Will be buried as treasure

This turbulent ocean of love
Has too many, too many sorrowful waves
Let’s not be like that, let’s not regret anything
We have to cross the ocean together
We have to reach the shore together

If at times we lose heart or are disappointed
That’s because we love the other person too much
Who can be skilled in love at the very start?
Who can have a direction when they’ve just embarked?
Not arduous, not difficult, no need to yearn

I’ve fallen in love with you, I’ve fallen in love with you
It’s fated to be you; I’ve failed utterly
I’ve fallen in love with you, I’ve fallen in love with you
It was long prophesied that we would separate, decided that it would be a tragedy

Whatever time Heaven has allotted me
I’ll give it all to you; I’ve forgotten myself
Hurrying in the limited time left in life
Let this moment halt right here

As long as you live another day, I’m willing
No matter if there’s worse news tomorrow
As long as you live another day, my heart
My heart will be satisfied

Archer’s Playlist

  • Heart of Sword ~夜明前 (Before Dawn) – T.M. Revolution
    • This song is one of the ending themes for the anime adaptation of the manga series Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X), which focuses on a samurai who was once a notorious assassin but has since reformed. To me, this song suits Archer’s life after being kidnapped by impressors and forced to live a violent life on the edge, living for the next fight, the next day.
      Here is a translation of the chorus, which I found on AnimeLyrics.com (translated by Rizuchan)

Though I’m alone, I think I can cross over the distant tomorrow
As long as it’s still dawn
These feelings that will rush if they are left alone
And that dream will pass by each other again

Thank the Heavens, thank the Earth
Thank Fate for letting us meet
Ever since I’ve had you, life has been full of miracles
Drifting together, roaming together, interweaving into a brilliant tapestry of memories

Thank the wind, thank the rain
Thank the sunlight for illuminating the earth
Ever since I’ve had you, the world has become very beautiful
Drifting together, roaming together, the years are all filled with drunken sweetness

The sea can dry up, the stones can rot, the sky can collapse, the earth can split
We will stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand

It was you
Who, in the wilderness
In the discouraged mortal world
Let me glimpse you in one glance

It is I
Who doesn’t have a complete heart
Nor am I a perfect person
Able to love you

So you can be infatuated
I can be unrestrained
Neither of us mentioning the hurt we’ve endured
As long as there is a place for us to roam

Tomorrow is the final day to see each other one last time
Let the dawn pass before us
Please settle into sleep before I leave
I fear the feeling of breakups the most

Tomorrow is the final day to see each other one last time
So forget what month, what year it is
When you open your eyes
I will appear one day to say I love you again

[Blog Tour] Review for Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Title: Star-Touched Stories

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 7th, 2018

Those who have read my reviews of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes know that I adored them, so when I found out about Star-Touched Stories, my heart leapt with excitement. Now that I’ve read it, I can say it lived up to my expectations.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the ARC I received from the publisher as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes, so reader discretion is advised. I strongly recommend reading The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes before reading Star-Touched Stories.

Each of the three stories blends fantasy and romance and builds upon the world from TSTQ and ACOW.

Death and Night is the swoony tale of courtship between Maya and Amar from The Star-Touched Queen, taking the reader back to when they first met lifetimes ago. The two immortal beings Death and Night are hated and feared by many in the mortal realm and Otherworld alike for their dark natures, but in each other they find beauty, passion, and possibility.

Even knowing how things would end, I still felt the thrill of suspense and tension. I read this story already when it was first released by itself as an e-book novella, and I savored it again on the second read-through. It makes me want to reread The Star-Touched Queen with fresh eyes and attend to the dramatic irony that will appear now that I have the backstory.

Poison and Gold centers on Aasha, the curious and earnest vishakanya from A Crown of Wishes, taking her from supporting role to the forefront. As she is adjusting to her new life in the mortal realm among humans, she is offered a position as Gauri and Vikram’s Spy Mistress. However, the title and responsibility must be earned and approved by the current Spy Mistress of Bharata, Zahril, who is mysterious, proud, and nearly impossible to please. Driven by ambition and the desire to help her friends, Aasha rises to the challenge of training under Zahril, and in the process, finds herself and first love.

If you like puzzles and brain teasers, this story is riddled with them (pun intended). Poison and Gold is a coming-of-age story that gives Aasha satisfying depth and development as she evolves from rough and awkward stone to gleaming polished gem.

Last but not least is Rose and Sword, which alternates between past and present as a young princess of Bharata-Ujijain (alternatively called Bharat-Jain on the back cover, I’m assuming the inconsistency will be corrected in the final version) named Hira listens to her grandmother tell a tale about Gauri’s wedding night, when she discovers Vikram is fated to die that very night. Just as she is about to give up hope, Gauri is presented with a chance to bring Vikram back from the dead, but taking it means braving the dangers of Naraka as well as the faults of the human heart. With great love comes great risk, and Gauri must make a choice about whether the risk is worth the outcome.

Alternating between Hira and Gauri’s points of view creates both distance and immediacy, outsider perspective and embodied subjectivity, revisiting familiar characters with a fresh gaze. The balance between the two makes room for meta-commentary not only on the events of the story but also folkloric storytelling itself as an art and oral tradition. This story is at once bittersweet and hopeful and makes for the perfect goodbye to the world of the Star-Touched stories (if this is indeed the end).

Conclusion: All three stories are written with Roshani Chokshi’s signature gorgeous, evocative prose, rendering the characters’ emotions palpable. When people joke about authors whose grocery lists they would read, Roshani Chokshi is one of the authors who comes to mind for me. If you’ve read TSTQ and ACOW, don’t miss out on Star-Touched Stories.

Content/Trigger Warnings:

  • Aromisia: There are a few places where the celebration of romance veers into positioning it as universal for humans/above other kinds of love/relationships, which is probably the most notable flaw about the book.
  • Binarism: Although this collection features an f/f romance in Poison and Gold, and queerness is referenced in the stories, it’s still restricted to the context of binary genders, men and women, which was disappointing to me as a non-binary reader.
  • Transmisogyny: There’s a scene in Aasha’s story where Vikram dresses up as a harem wife to sneak in because men aren’t allowed in the women’s quarters, and it’s played for laughs like it was in A Crown of Wishes (mentioned it in my review there as well). Although Vikram does argue that dresses are more comfortable, the act of crossdressing is still framed as a humorous and deviant thing to do to scandalize other people. This framing fails to recognize the violence of gender policing/cisnormativity and the danger that trans/non-binary/gender-nonconforming folks face for defying those norms.

Author Interview: Livia Blackburne

I know I’m late, but here is the fourth and final interview for my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series, with Livia Blackburne, whose most recent book Rosemarked was one of my favorite reads of 2017. I’m dying for the sequel, Umbertouched, which comes out later this year (November 6th), but in the meantime, here’s a spoiler-free interview with Livia about Rosemarked and writing. 🙂

Synopsis of Rosemarked from Goodreads:

A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.

Q: In YA, we always talk about the concept of “strong female characters,” and in fantasy, these tend to be warrior-types who literally kick ass. In Rosemarked, your main female character, Zivah, is a healer rather than a warrior. What do you think makes her strong, and what do you believe a healer’s perspective brings to the story?

A: I’m glad you made that observation! Writing Zivah the way I did was a deliberate choice after writing Midnight Thief, in which the main character  Kyra was a more traditional type of kick ass heroine. And while I love Kyra, with Rosemarked, I started thinking about other kinds of strength. What are other ways to change the world, if you are not able to beat up everyone you meet? And so, there’s Zivah. Physically, she’s very weak. In fact, she’s very close to death. But she’s smart. She’s worked hard to gain knowledge, and she’s savvy about applying it. She’s also determined, loyal, and brave.

Q: The Rose Plague is a very distinctive illness in how it manifests. Did you base it on any real life disease(s)?

A: The broad strokes of rose plague were inspired by leprosy. In fact, one of the main inspirations for Rosemarked was a play about the Hawaiian leper colony at Molokai. I was struck not only by the biological aspects of the disease, but the social emotional aspect aspect. It’s bad enough to develop a terminal illness. How much worse is it to have to deal with that illness in quarantine, apart from your family and everyone you love? For the specific symptoms of rose plague, I borrowed from a whole bunch of different diseases. Rashes, of course, are very common disease marker, and I also included some flu-like symptoms such as fever and delirium.

Q: Although Rosemarked is a fantasy novel, there are aspects of it that I could tell were grounded in science. Was your science background (Biochemical Science and Cognitive Neuroscience) helpful in writing this book, and if so, how?

A: Well, I did a lot of research into the history of medicine to find inspiration for the healing techniques used in the story, and my biochemistry background helped out a lot with that. Also, the story centers around a memory potion. While that potion is strictly fantasy, it is based on real neuroscience principles of memory. For example, the potion takes away your personal memories and your knowledge of the world, but doesn’t take away physical skills such as the ability to use a sword. This is very similar to actual incidences of amnesia, where people might forget ever learning to play the piano but still be able to play a minuet.

Q: One of the central conflicts of Rosemarked and Umbertouched is the colonial occupation of Dara and Shidadi people by the Amparan Empire. Are any of these cultures based on real life cultures?

A: None of the cultures map directly onto a real world culture. When I decided I wanted to write an ancient empire, I did look at the Persian empire as an example of how an empire might be run in that kind of time, with that kind of technology. And some aspects of the Persian empire did make it into the Amparan empire. For example, the importance of roads for transportation and communication, as well as a very cool military technique that appears in Umbertouched.

On the other hand, Ampara differs from Ancient Persia in many ways as well. Most notably, the Persian empire was actually quite good to the people it subjugated, so much so that sometimes their armies were welcomed as liberators. Anyone who reads Rosemarked, however, knows that the Amparan empire is anything but merciful.

There is some Asian influence, especially in the landscape of Monyar peninsula. One of the early Amparan surgeries described in Rosemarked was based on a real technique used in ancient India. And here’s a random bit of trivia, the basic philosophies of the Shidadi and Dara people stem from two sides of a Facebook debate about safety, liberty, and government overreach that scrolled across my news feed after the Boston marathon bombing. I wouldn’t read too much into the story about my own political views though. The story goes where it will.

Q: Rosemarked is your sophomore series. Has your writing process for this series changed from when you were writing Midnight Thief, and if so, how?

A: Midnight Thief was the first novel I ever completed, and I really had very little idea of what I was doing. A lot of things, like character traits, or world building, I kind of improvised as I went along. With Rosemarked, I was a lot more deliberate about planning beforehand. I spent a lot more time on world building. I thought a lot about what I wanted the story to be like, what I wanted the characters to be like, and what I wanted that I asked to be. Basically, I built a much stronger foundation and it saved me a great deal of time in revisions.


Livia Blackburned author headshot.jpg

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She is also the author of MIDNIGHT THIEF (an Indies Introduce New Voices selection), DAUGHTER OF DUSK, and ROSEMARKED (an Amazon best book of the month and YALSA Teens Top Ten Nominee).

Author Interview: Henry Lien

Hi again! Today’s Taiwanese author interview is with Henry Lien on his debut middle grade fantasy novel Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Peasprout Chen Future Legend of Skate and Sword

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, where the blades are sharp and the competition is fierce. 

Peasprout Chen dreams of becoming a legend of wu liu, the deadly and beautiful art of martial arts figure skating. 

As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking. 

Tensions rise when the dazzling pearl buildings of the Academy are vandalized and outsider Peasprout is blamed for the attacks by her rivals … and even some friends. 

Now, she must uncover the true vandal to ensure peace between Shin and Pearl – all while becoming a champion.

Now, buckle-in for this in-depth interview!

Q: To start off, what is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You’re allowed to pick more than one.)

A: What a great question! Food is identity. I choose dan-dan mian (peanut butter noodle). It’s classically Taiwanese, naturally vegan, appeals to young and old, and serves as an eminently charismatic introduction to Taiwanese food. It makes an appearance in the second PEASPROUT CHEN book. In fact, there are a lot of cameos by Taiwanese food in the series.

Runner up would be a traditional Taiwanese breakfast spread with ride porridge, three kinds of pickled vegetables, simmered tofu, fried crullers, warm soy milk, etc. Truly the best breakfast in the world and I will fight, kill, and toss into the sea anyone who says different.

Q: Tell us a little more about Peasprout and the world of Pearl beyond what’s in the synopsis.

A: Peasprout is a huge personality. She is courageous, has a huge heart, is expressive (when she’s not reticent), is warm (when she’s not being icy), makes grand, gorgeous, generous gestures, says things that no one else says, does things that no one else thinks to do or has the guts to do. She is always the most original, most talented, most unforgettable person in the room. When you meet her, you will think about her later that day. She is also self-aggrandizing, deluded, extreme, a bit of a weirdo, and rather lonely. She’s pretty much me.

It was excruciating to write such a deeply flawed character based so candidly on myself while forbidding myself from shading her more flatteringly. However, writing this way was an exercise in a) learning to applaud the parts of myself that I am proud of while; b) gazing at my flaws fully and hideously lit; and c) accepting that I’m perpetually a work in progress and will probably die that way. Sigh.

Regarding the world of Pearl, I could go on and on. It’s a world where you can skate on any surface, any rooftop, handrail, balustrade, etc. The entire city was built to accommodate this fictional sport of wu liu, which combines figure skating with kung fu. The city is essentially a figure skating, kung fu amusement park. It was my own personal parkour course on a city-scale, my own private Disneyland built from a brain-scan of what I liked and cared about. I feel like joy is pretty thin in science fiction/fantasy and the world in general these days. I wanted to create a city that while far from perfect, was in one primary way an exuberant expression of pure joy.

Q: Why the name Peasprout?

A: I wanted a name that that was gender-neutral, equally adorable in English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese, didn’t actually exist, and had a lot of personality. I wanted something that was as rich in Chinese/Taiwanese flavor as the names that Tolkien made up to express essential Englishness in his works.

Q: Given the history and current presence of Asian Americans in figure skating, from Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi to today’s Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, and Alex and Maia Shibutani, it feels appropriate to have an Asian ice skating story. Did any of these skaters influence or inspire your story?

A: Massive influence! I don’t feel equipped to make generalizations about why there is such a high representation of Asian Americans in the sport. However, Kwan and Yamaguchi had to both deal with a lot of misstatements and nonsense regarding their Asian heritage in media coverage about their performances, endorsements, etc. That unfairness influenced the book since Peasprout herself is an immigrant and a dawning awareness of unfairness in the world is a classic theme in middle grade fiction.

On a more fundamental level, it felt right to write an Asian skating story because I always saw figure skating as the soulmate of traditional wushu (kung fu).

Q: What kinds of research did you do for this story, if any?

A: I took figure skating and kung fu lessons and was appalling at both. I wrote a blog about it, actually. If you want a good laugh, here’s a link: http://henrylien.com/writer-suffers-devastating-injuries-while-researching-kung-fu-figure-skating-childrens-book/ Despite the farcical tone, it’s actually 99% true. Read it and laugh at my woe.

For the worldbuilding, I also did a tremendous amount of research about language, culture, history, international relations, the complex history among Taiwan, China, and Japan, marine biology, architecture, engineering, meteorology, fashion, puberty, culinary fads, superstition, and on and on and on. A lot of that is happening under the hood but there’s so much solid research supporting the book that I in fact don’t really consider it fantasy. The fantastical worldbuilding is actually just exaggerated/extrapolated real stuff. I deliberately set out to write a fantasy that had no magic because I wanted to show that culture and history are in themselves magic enough.

For the characters and the interpersonal dynamics, I spent a lot of time in conversation with women including my sister, my agent, my editor, beta readers, etc., to make the representation of girls diverse and realistic, since I was writing from outside my own lived experience. I particularly wanted to examine the oft-bandied generalization that girls are socialized to be more relational and to develop instant relationships, positive or negative, with every other girl in their social unit, which instinctively felt super-sweeping and super-binary. Whether or not there is truth in this generalization, I wanted to explore the idea that not all girls are like this, want this, or agree with this generalization. Appreciating the differences of opinion about this idea was one of the things I spent the most time on.

Q: What would you say has been the hardest part of writing Peasprout Chen?

A: This question is hard to answer because everything about this book was hard. Perhaps the hardest thing was the puzzle nature of the plot. I was determined to write a puzzle plot that was as ambitious as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban” or “Abre Los Ojos”. The engineering required to pull off such a plot while staying mindful of all the other elements that go into a book while serving my particular plot’s unusual requirements for pacing, frequency of clues, scaling of transparency of clues to a vast age range of potential readers, passage of time in the book’s world (mapped onto a rigid academic schedule and seasons that don’t match with our world’s seasons but have plot impacts), number of pages elapsed, etc., while also making the book as enjoyable on a second read after you learn its secrets, all while striving for a feeling of effortlessness in the choreography of story elements, was a staggering amount of work.

Q: I went and listened to the podcast of Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters, which was posted on Asimov’s Science Fiction (links: Part 1, Part 2). According to your site, Peasprout Chen’s story is a sequel to this story but also the first in a trilogy of its own. Why did you choose to Peasprout Chen’s story as the start for the series?

A: “Pearl Rehab Colony” was always intended as a contained experiment, a sort of proof of concept for the larger series. It’s told from the POV of Suki, the villain of the Peasprout Chen series. As such, it was intended as an experiment to test my powers of empathy and ventriloquism. However, Suki’s head is a cramped, claustrophobic, forbidding place in which to situate a viewpoint. I don’t think readers would have been able to bear spending 360 some pages in the head of such a nasty person. Peasprout is quite the pill herself but a different sort of pill, one whose edges break off as it goes down, one that sweetens while being broken apart. In some ways, Peasprout’s story is not the story of a winner, but of a loser, and it takes a tenderer, more complex narrator than Suki to bear such things with dignity and beauty. I wanted a narrator that showed that being vulnerable was not incompatible with being strong.


Henry Lien author headshot

Henry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West, and his short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning multiple Nebula Award nominations. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood, California. Before becoming an author, Henry worked as an attorney, fine art dealer, and college instructor. His hobbies include vegan cooking, losing Nebula awards, and finding excuses to write and publicly perform science fiction/fantasy themed anthems. He is the author of Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Author Interview: Fonda Lee

Hey everyone, sorry for the gap in posting. Today’s interview is with Fonda Lee. Aside from addressing more general writing questions, this interview will touch on the first book of her adult fantasy, Jade City, which came out late last year, as well as her YA science fiction duololgy that began with Exo and concludes with Cross Fire, which is coming out later this month on May 29th. For context, I’m giving y’all the summaries of the books. (There won’t be any spoilers in the interview.)

Exo and Crossfire take place in a future in which Earth is colonized by aliens called the zhree. Here’s the Goodreads summary for Exo:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…

And the Goodreads summary for Jade City:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

Now, for the actual interview!

Q: Unlike many aliens we see in sci-fi, the aliens in Exo and Cross Fire, the zhree, are very clearly non-humanoid. Are there any real life-forms that inspired their design?

A: I was very intentional about not making the zhree humanoid. There are so many humanoid aliens in science fiction because Hollywood has human actors; I don’t have that constraint as a novelist. I wanted the aliens to be truly alien, but they needed to have certain characteristics to satisfy the premise of humans and aliens coexisting and cooperating on a future colonized Earth. I made a list of what traits would make an alien race compatible with us; they would be land-dwelling, use vocal communication, and be intelligent tool users. I also knew, from all the research I did into space travel for my previous novel, Zeroboxer, that radiation and harsh conditions are a major barrier to astronauts. An alien species with natural body armor would have a huge advantage over us in creating a galactic civilization. So that’s how the zhree came about: I envisioned them sort of as six-limbed, armored land octopi.

Q: The main character of the Exo duology, Donovan, has a unique position of privilege within the zhree-dominated colonized society because of his father’s political influence and his own integration of zhree technology into his physiology to become more like the zhree. What made you decide to center his perspective exclusively as opposed to, or without the addition of, that of someone with less privilege or even someone in the anti-colonial organization Sapience, like Anya?

A: I’d read plenty of young adult dystopian novels in which the protagonists are rebels fighting oppression: The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. They’ve become a staple of the category. It’s easy to root for and identify with a character who’s downtrodden and trying to forcibly overthrow an evil empire. It’s more challenging to understand and change the system from within. I love moral ambiguity in my fiction; I don’t want to make it easy for readers to identify good guys and bad guys (in fact, I never write them), because the real world is rarely so simple. If I’d written the book from Anya’s perspective, or written it in dual-POV, it would’ve been like a dozen other YA dystopian novels. Here’s the thing: the world is NOT dystopian from Donovan’s POV. In fact, it’s pretty darn good. Which goes to show that dystopia is all a matter of perspective. You could say that I wrote EXO and CROSS FIRE specifically as a way of challenging myself to make readers like, understand, and even root for, the “other side.” Donovan and his friends are good people who try to do what they believe with their own solid reasoning is truly right, which is to uphold the alien colonial regime. I want that to mess with reader’s heads.

Q: One of the hardest aspects of writing speculative fiction is avoiding excessive infodumps. How do you manage the balance between action/suspense and providing information on the world the characters inhabit?

A: One of the keys to seamless worldbuilding is to weave information into the narrative in a natural way. The story should keep plowing forward and readers should be able to absorb everything they need to know in context. This also means giving the characters opportunities to interact with the world and examine the backstory in a way that informs the reader, without it ever seeming to inform the reader. For example, I don’t open EXO with an infodump on how the aliens came to rule Earth. It’s not until about a third of the way through the book that Donovan happens to see some old footage of the invasion and that’s when the reader gets it, in an almost “oh, by the way” as the story progresses.

Q: I know you have a background in martial arts, which must be helpful for writing the action and combat scenes in your books. What advice do you have on writing such scenes for people who don’t have that background?

A: Don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty blow-by-blow details. Action scenes have to have narrative purpose and emotional consequence for the characters; that’s the most important thing. That said, action scenes should have rhythm, freshness, and clarity. Don’t use the same old clichés, “Her heart was pounding,” or “He saw red.” Come up with better ways of conveying the sensations of the fight, and make sure the reader can clearly visualize what’s happening. Finally, there’s no substitute for research. That might be first hand (take martial arts classes, learn to safely handle weapons) or second hand (for me, that included watching a lot of live MMA, action movies, videos on YouTube, and seeking out good action and fight scenes in other books.)

Q: I’ve only gotten to read a small part of Jade City, but I got very distinct Taiwan vibes from some of the worldbuilding. I know you’ve mentioned Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hawaii, Japan as influences on the worldbuilding for Jade City in another interview. Are there any parts of the setting based on very specific real life locations, e.g. a particular neighborhood, street, building you’ve seen or visited?

A: The city of Janloon in Jade City is very much a world entirely of my own imagination. Think of it like Wakanda in Black Panther; it’s a place very much formed out of real world cultures and geography and aesthetic cues, but it’s also magical and completely its own place. I want the reader to feel like this setting is familiar, but they shouldn’t be able to identify anything that’s obviously from our world. Even the brands of cars and motorcycles and guns are invented; but my goal was to render everything so specifically that it feels real.

Q: Your debut novel, Zeroboxer, was a standalone whereas Exo and Jade City are both the first books in series. How has your writing process for these series differed from your writing of Zeroboxer, if at all, and do you have any advice for writing multi-volume stories?

I’ll hopefully be able to answer this question in a few years! Right now, I’m in the thick of working on the Green Bone Saga, so the one thing that I can tell you is that writing a sequel comes with its own set of challenges and is just as hard as writing the first book. (Not least of all because of the more aggressive deadlines.) The only way that the writing process really differs is that I have to think further ahead. For example, as I’m writing the second book now, I’m thinking about how certain thing might have repercussions in the third book. And I have my eye not just on the story arc for this book, but for the entire series.


Fonda Lee photoFonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit), a finalist for the Nebula Award and named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, and Syfy Wire, among others. Her young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic) were Junior Library Guild Selections and Andre Norton Award finalists. Cross Fire (the sequel to Exo) releases in May 2018. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado living in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.