Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date: 01 November 2018
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I got a free proof of this book at YALC. This review is spoiler-free for Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, but contains spoilers for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. You can read my review of the first book here.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have gotten my hands on an early copy of Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix! I read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns earlier this year and absolutely adored it. Xifeng is easily one of my favourite fantasy villains because of her callousness, her calculated choices, and her cutthroat attitude. She rises to the throne and becomes Empress of Feng Lu at the end of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, but what happens next? Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix takes place 15 years later just before Jade, the daughter of the former Empress Lihua and sole heir to the throne, comes of age.
Where Forest is a retelling of the evil queen that so often is the antagonist in fairy tales, Kingdom is much more of a Snow White retelling. There are so many elements of this story from the familiar to the less well known — my favourite being the poisoned comb from one of my favourite Snow White stories. Despite this, the stories are seamless. What I’d really love to know from Dao is if she wrote these as one story and split them in two, because the transition between the two books is so smooth. There is no change in atmosphere or writing style — it truly feels like we never left Feng Lu. To me, this seamless transition speaks so strongly to Dao’s talent as a writer. You immediately slip back into the world and it’s like you never left.
The world building in this book is wonderful. Of course, most of the groundwork was laid in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which took place almost exclusively in the Imperial City. The first half of Kingdom is spent within those walls, however we do get to explore Feng Lu with Jade and her companions. I absolutely loved journeying to the Grasslands, Davobad, Kamatsu and beyond. We also get to learn a little more about the cultures and politics of this world, which are my favourite thing.
My main worry about Kingdom was that we wouldn’t be following Xifeng. She’s such a powerful and delightfully evil character — I didn’t want to go from her to a perfect fantasy heroine. I deeply underestimated Jade at the beginning of this book. Initially she seems to be a meek young woman, but she grows so much as a character over the course of the story — I really loved her by the end. She’s interesting to me because she has all the qualities of a heroic fantasy princess — she’s compassionate and wants to do the right thing and is filled with love and a desire the change the world for the better — but she’s also an incredibly angry woman. At times you can really see how similar she and Xifeng are. I loved them and their antagonistic relationship — they played off each other really well.
I wont say more here, go ahead and dive right into this book. If you liked Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, you’re most likely going to love this as well. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is packed with girl power — both of these books are all about women, how they are underestimated, and how they can use their power to change the world, for better or worse.
Want to purchase Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix? You can find it at the following sites: