Library Journal Review
DEBUT As a war orphan from Rooster Province, Rin's future looks grim. Her guardians are already planning to marry her off, so why not work to pass the Keju, the Empire's test to discover the smartest, most talented youth to study at the Academies? Rin shocks everyone by acing the exam, but her success is not necessarily for the better, as she is targeted by classmates who look down on her as a dark-skinned peasant girl. Yet it is under this duress that Rin discovers she has a gift for shamanism. It takes an unbalanced teacher and hallucinogenic substances to help her control her powers and prove the gods are still alive, and her talent comes at a cost; when one is chosen by the gods, one becomes subject to their whims. With war looming, Rin must rely on her shamanic abilities to save herself and her people. VERDICT Drawing on the bloody history of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), debuter Kuang balances strong, graphic details of violent warfare and its effects with a young woman's struggle to succeed and her desire for vengeance in this strikingly grim military fantasy that summons readers into an East Asian--inspired world of battles, opium, gods, and monsters. Fans of Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings will snap this one up. [See Prepub Alert, 11/11/17.]-Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Debut novelist Kuang creates an ambitious fantasy reimagining of Asian history populated by martial artists, philosopher-generals, and gods. War orphan Fang Runin ("Rin") escapes abusive foster parents by gaining admission to the Nikara Empire's prestigious military academy. Though stigmatized because of her peasant background, she earns top grades and wins the annual martial arts tournament. But she refuses a typical apprenticeship and instead goes to study with the academy's disreputable Lore Master Jiang, who despairs of reviving the discredited shaman traditions. Finding her way to the home of the gods, Rin is forced to choose between obeying her master's warnings against abuse of power and unleashing divine retribution when the island nation of Mugen, armed with chemical and biological weapons, invades and massacres civilians. Kuang highlights the horrors of war, especially the moral and emotional toll on combatants who employ scorched-earth strategies. Heroic responses pale in view of the collateral damage that they trigger, and the novel does not allow its characters to slough off their culpability for channeling godly powers. Readers may empathize with Rin's desire for vengeance, but any thrill at her success is matched by horror at its costs. This is a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang's career. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Booklist Review
An adopted war orphan of unknown heritage has few prospects. But Fang Runin, called Rin, is stubborn and clever. To everyone's astonishment, she gains admittance to Sinegard, the Empire's premier military institute. The academy is devoted to training the next generation of martial leaders, preparing them for war with the Federation, the neighboring island nation they barely defeated during the Second Poppy War. The competition among first-year pupils is fierce, and Rin aspires against all odds to beat out the others for an elite apprenticeship. She surprises her fellow students and the instructors by choosing to study with Master Jiang, an eccentric old man many believe to be a crazy, drug-addicted war criminal. Despite being a brutal and often frustrating teacher, Jiang encourages Rin to explore her innate talent for the mystical art of shamanism, although she feels he may be holding something vital back. How can she defend the Empire if she cannot control her power? Set in an alternate version of historical China, Kuang's debut will appeal to fans of epic military fantasy.--Lockley, Lucy Copyright 2018 Booklist