- Title: Strike the Zither (Kingdom of Three, 1)
- Author: Joan He
- Print Length: 368
- Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
- Publication Date: October 25, 2022
- Language: English
- Formats: eBook and Hardcover and Audible
- Genres: Fantasy, Teen and Young Adult
- Purchase links below. Audible also available
For signed copies visit Joan He’s site for outlets HERE.
A dazzling new fantasy from New York Times and Indie bestselling author Joan He, Strike the Zither is a powerful, inventive, and sweeping fantasy that reimagines the Chinese classic tale of the Three Kingdoms.
The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.
But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.
Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged―while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one―and not all of them are human.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book for an honest review.
First I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even if I don’t describe that fact justly in the following.
It was difficult to write a review without spoilers but I did my best. (I really wanted to reveal things because I enjoyed it a lot.)
The book is a a blend of historical, fantasy, sword and sorcery. Although mostly written with young adults as characters, and perhaps as the general target audience, I enjoyed it and didn’t need to put ages to them.
I’m going to geek about history for a moment but don’t necessarily look at this as strictly a historical fiction book, or even fantasy book.
I am a big history person. I studied history in college. Became a history teacher, and even wrote a historical fiction novel. So when I had the opportunity to review author JOAN HE’s latest work, STRIKE THE ZITHER, I jumped at it. And I am not disappointed. Combining historical elements with fantasy, the story moves quickly and I didn’t want to put it down. In fact, I stopped watching Netflix and read the book through the night until I finished. And did I have some surprises to experience.
Now the review.
The reader will find unique characters and voices. Although some serve similar purposes, as they must in a story like this, they do have their own personalities that make them stand apart from the rest of the cast.
One thing to keep in mind is this re-imagining of the Three Kingdoms is a matriarchal society. Those in power are women and normally their primary advisors and supporters are the same.
The main character of the book is an 18 year old woman called ZEPHYR. a highly intelligent strategist whose only purpose in life is to keep XIN REN alive and bring her success. No matter what she must do to achieve this goal. She’s small and weak of body and does not take action as a warrior and this is seen as more of a hindrance than an asset by many of those serving Xin Ren. But they all secretly realize that without her brain, they would be dead before the time this story even begins.
Zephyr is often at odds with Xin Ren’s SWORNSISTERS CLOUD and LOTUS. Two fierce warriors. More mature in mind is the GENERAL TOURMALINE who does give Zephyr her support and acknowledgement of the young strategist’s skill.
Not everyone is a friend or supporter of Xin Ren.
PRIME MINISTRESS MIASMA considers Xin Ren a rival since the two are closest to the EMPRESS XIN BAO. Mirasma wishes to do away with her rival. There is a young governor of the Southlands and Xin Ren’s uncle who is governor of the Westlands.
Finally there is CROW, a strategist for Miasma that causes many problems for Zephyr’s strategies and plans for Xin Ren and the future of the Empire.
There are some surprising characters that hit our protagonist hard emotionally but there are also some who are simply surprising in their determination and focus on a goal.
JOEN HE’s world gives a nice look at what conflicts within China’s history might look like and the intricacies of how people work together within a group although they don’t agree with each other, except for their loyalty to their leader.
The reader will enjoy the structure the country is given with their own distinct geographical characteristics that give the various people their personalities.
The matriarchal system isn’t all that noticeable to this reader. Yes, it’s there and at first I did see it, but after a few pages, it was simply part of the story and didn’t make a difference in my thinking.
The fantasy aspect of the story is hinted at for a while, but when it seriously shows up it hits you in the face… for a moment. It’s well done, and a good surprise. It explains a lot of things. Then I quickly fell back into the story.
There is one part of the fantasy part that is kind of odd but I think it is more because it’s more how a Chinese myth would go as opposed to the more mundane western ideas.
Good v Evil or it could be the perception of the reader as to what is good for the Empire being done in a harsh/evil way. Or is this version of good really good at all.
Redemption: Zephyr’s journey is an obvious one as the book goes along, but there are others we see as well.
Courage and Perseverance: This is evident not only with warriors but with weaker ones standing up and taking chances for their leaders.
Revenge: A theme that runs through any story of war and discord but is used as an excuse by some but as truth by others.
I can’t say there is anything I didn’t like about the book. And that’s rare. Maybe the only thing might be that book two isn’t here yet?
The main characters are excellent and realistic for the time and the story.
Using an ancient setting is more difficult than people might think when reimagining history while including fantasy. Joan: He does it well.
I enjoyed the surprise aspects of the story that added complexity. Complexity can slow a book’s story but in this case I didn’t want to put it down until I finished.
Strike the Zither is a must read for fans of HISTORICAL FICTION and who are okay with a little FANTASY. I say little fantasy because I don’t see it as too overt. You’ll need to read it for that to make sense. There is ACTION and BATTLES. SUBTERFUGE. SURPRISE ROMANCE angles. The ending sets up for the next book. And done just right to make it easy to wait for the next book but still wanting you to wish it were here already. I would make sure you follow Joan He to see when the next one comes out… as a reminder.
3=Good and meets what I hope a book should be. A success.
4=Better than expected, didn’t put it down, enjoyable. Would easily recommend to others. THIS IS A GREAT RATING FROM ME.
5=Knocks me out. Would read it over and over again. RARE FROM ME.
A 4.1 STARS out of 5 based on…
Realistic Characters/Character Development based on genre: 4
World Building: 4
Believability based on genre and intent: 4
Overall Enjoyment: 4.5
About the author
Joan He was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that storytelling was her favorite form of expression. She studied Psychology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes in Chicago. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Ones We’re Meant to Find, Descendant of the Crane, and Strike the Zither, the first book in the Kingdom of Three duology.
© 2022- Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.