Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date: 01 December 2019
Genre: YA fantasy
Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
Julie C. Dao is one of my auto-buy authors — I totally fell in love with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and adored The Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. I thought that with the completion of the Rise of the Empress duology, we would leave the world of Feng Lu forever. So imagine my surprise and delight to discover that Song of the Crimson Flower, her latest book, was set in the same world! This book completely stands alone from the Rise of the Empress duology, but will still delight fans of the original books with some familiar faces and themes.
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?
In this fantastical tale of darkness and love, some magical bonds are stronger than blood.
Much like the Rise of the Empress series, Song of the Crimson Flower has the feeling and nostalgia of a gorgeous fairy tale in an East Asian setting. It has the same fairy tale structure, tropes, and characters that we so often see in classic tales, giving it a lovely, warm feeling of nostalgia. Reading Song of the Crimson Flower feels like you’re sinking into a favourite childhood tale or storybook, which is one of the most rewarding reading experiences for me.
The fact that this takes place in Feng Lu, the well-established world of The Rise of the Empress duology, doesn’t mean that Dao slacks on worldbuilding at all. She expands the Grasslands with much more detail than previously seen and paints a picture of both the wealth and poverty that our characters experience. Magic and medicine, both good and bad, are woven through the story in an incredibly effective way. This is particularly effective in the way that the Black Spice drug is portrayed — it causes horrible addiction and tears apart families, but could also be a miracle cure to a horrible illness that haunts the Grasslands. I loved the way that she balanced these themes and coloured this book with shades of gray.
The romance is a major driver for the plot and characters, and I really enjoyed the growing relationship between Lan and Bao. Neither is perfect at the start and both desperately need to grow in order to become more understanding people, which I always love. I particularly enjoyed Lan’s character arc — her journey to see past her privilege was a pleasure to read. My favourite romance, however, was one between two minor characters. I was completely and totally invested in their story and would have happily have read from their point of view too. I was also thrilled to see many familiar faces in this book and loved that we got to see old favourites eight years after the events of the first series.
The Song of the Crimson Flower will delight fans of Dao’s previous books, but also stands alone as a fine YA fantasy tale for newcomers to her writing. This is the perfect book to cosy up with and binge read on a cold winter night!
CW: Drugs and discussion of addiction, abandonment
Want to pick up a copy of Song of the Crimson Flower for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affilate links):