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The Bird and the Blade Hardcover – June 5, 2018
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“The Bird and the Blade is a tale filled with magic and mystery. It will entrance you from the first page. Meticulously researched and beautifully executed, this story will linger long after you have finished reading.” (#1 NYT bestselling author Renèe Ahdieh)
“Lavish, sweeping, and powerful…. A must-read for fans of heart-wrenching, sob-your-heart-out YA.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“A rich, imaginative tale that delivers thrilling characters, heartstopping action, and exciting intrigue with every turn of the page.” (Booklist)
“At once haunting and compelling, this tale of love and loalty will wreck you. Exquisite from the first note to the last.” (Natalie C. Parker, author of Beware the Wild)
“The Bird and the Blade has everything I want in a novel: vivid characters, sumptuous prose, romance, funny dialogue, and a sweeping storyline in an intricately researched world. This story will break your heart—but it will remake it, too.” (Rosalyn Eves, author of Blood Rose Rebellion)
“Will leave readers in tears” (School Library Journal)
“A magical and tragic romantic adventure.” (Publishers Weekly)
About the Author
Megan Bannen is a librarian and the author of The Bird and the Blade. In her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, their two sons, and a few too many pets with literary names. She can be found online at www.meganbannen.com.
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Story: Jinhua has lost everything to the selfish Mongol Princess Turandokt: the Song dynasty devastated in a war over Turandokt's fickle hand in marriage, then her second home as a slave also destroyed. But Jinhua has a secret - she has fallen in love with the master she serves, Prince Khalaf and (whose father is the former Khan of the Kpchak Khanate). Together, the three will flee their city and seek a way to recover the Khanate. But all signs point to Khalaf risking his life in Turandokt's twisted riddle challenge to gain the Khan's patranage through marriage to Turandokt. Can Jinhua let her poet prince go in order to help him salvage his legacy?
For this tale, author Bannen has made some smart choices. The story is not linear but unfolds in a way so as to provide fascinating reveals about characters you thought you knew. The story starts with the first riddle but then immediately backtracks to Jinhua's fist meeting with Khalaf and her subsequent devotion to his side as they flee the invasion. The second riddle is presented in the middle of the book and we are then given more flashbacks, this time to Jinhua's past. Finally, we're given the third riddle and the conclusion of the story.
Those who know the opera will be relieved that this has not been Disneyfied as with the Little Mermaid. As well, it hasn't been watered down for a YA audience, assuming readers don't need a perfect HEA in order to enjoy a book. But at the same time, the ending doesn't feel as logical and obvious as it could have been. I didn't necessarily understand or empathize with Jinghua's choices in the end, which was surprising because the author did a good job of slowly developing Jinghua and her relationship to Khalaf.
I found myself similarly ambivalent about the characters. Khalaf is handsome, of course, and very learned/intelligent. He's known more for his philosophizing than for his swordplay, but of course he is an unparalleled warrior. Which means he isn't the usual alpha male but he is also far too overidealized a Prince Charming to be realistic. He doesn't want to bed our slave heroine like someone of his era (nor does his father, oddly) would - instead we have the angst of the prince whose heart is going one way but his royal duties going another. It was hard to find a reason why he was so attracted to Jinhua, if I'm being completely honest, and harder to find a reason why he doesn't just bed her. But at least this wasn't a three-way romance - Turandokt only briefly appears.
The book has a lot of history interspersed. The author is careful to note where she took liberties; after all, it isn't as though the opera inspiration was all that historically correct either. But I had a really hard time with the modern language used in the story. Phrases such as when Khalaf gives her a dagger to protect herself, Jinhua answer, "I bet you give all the girls daggers." There were too many odd modern phrasings that kept jarring me out of the wonderful historical milieu and I honestly didn't feel the book would have been worse had they been left out.
It was those inconsistencies in narrative that jarred. This isn't a swashbuckling swords and daggers story - it's more of a slow burn travel adventure that has some really smart writing decisions and some I felt let the book down. In all, though, it is definitely worth the read, especially since it is based of a Pucchini opera. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
The Bird and the Blade is a completely enthralling and heart-breaking YA fantasy debut. I enjoyed this so much, and I was completely teleported and captivated every time I opened this book up. Plus, this is a story about the descendants of Genghis Khan’s sons, mixed with the Italian opera Turandot, and that’s one of the most unique concepts of any story I’ve read in 2018. And this might not be the most historically accurate novel out there, but I loved reading about the Song dynasty and the Mongol Empire.
Genghis Khan had four sons, who had trouble deciding who would rule after their father. Well, this story centers around a prince from Jochi’s blood line. Jochi was the oldest of the sons, who ended up not being the ascended ruler, but still ended up being a great military leader, and his great, great grandson is no different. That is, until his men are killed, and he and his ruling father are forced to go into hiding with a girl who has many secrets.
And I fell in so in love with that secret keeper. Jinghua is now a companion to the Prince Khalaf and his father, Timur, but she was once a slave for the them and their entire family. Khalaf always showed her kindness and during a split-second decision, Jinghua goes into hiding with these two royal men. And while traveling she teaches him many things from her culture, including the language.
“Cruelty is easy to repay, my lord. Kindness is another matter.”
While they are traveling and hiding from their enemies throughout the Mongol Empire, they find out about the daughter of the Great Khan, Turandokht. She is so desired among all the princes for her hand in marriage, she has set up a contest for every royal suitor, where they must answer three riddles correctly given to them by herself. And if they answer any incorrectly, they will forfeit their lives. Khalaf wants nothing more than to try his hand at the riddles to marry Turandokht and restore the glory of his people, or die an honorable death trying.
And this story is told from present time where we first see Jinghua witnessing Khalaf being told the first riddle that will decide if he dies or moves on to the second. We are then teleported back in time, and we get all these puzzle pieces that slowly start to fit together. From Jinghua and Khalaf before they were forced into exile, to Jinghua with her family before she became a slave, to Jinghua falling in love with Khalaf slowly but ever so surely. And this beautiful story that is equal parts heart-warming and heart-wrenching slowly begins to take form.
This book puts the spotlight on a discussion about the beauty standards for women that we've endured for all our pasts and still in our present day. Like, how so many people feel like beauty is all that that women have to offer. And how we will pit girls against one another and created all this ugly jealousy, when we should be using that energy to uplift and support and celebrate all women.
“Her beauty doesn’t make you ugly. Her intelligence doesn’t make you stupid. Her value doesn’t make you worthless.”
Overall, this is the highest four star rating I’ve ever given a four star book. I loved this and was completely enthralled in the tale. I just really disliked the ending, which I suppose if I knew about Turandot before going in, I would have been better prepared. It completely broke me, and I know how beautiful it is when I take a step back and reflect upon it. But, I just really didn’t like it when I read it. But this really is such an impressive debut, and I can’t wait to see what Megan Bannen does next, because they created such a brilliant standalone that really impressed me.
Trigger and content warnings for slavery, kidnapping, heavy war themes, mention of rape, graphic deaths, graphic violence, torture, gore, loss of a loved one, and self-harm.
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Location: Various; China, Mongolia - Kipchak Khanate and...Read more