Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (Rise of the Empress #2) by Julie C. Dao

Wow, that was fucking terrible.

I mean, I’d been warned that this book would not be as brilliant as its predecessor Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns, a book so good that I put it in my Top 10 of 2018, but a lot of the (valid) criticism is that the main character, Jade, is extremely boring. That, in and of itself, is not a deal breaker, though it does give one pause: an unreservedly good/moral character need not necessarily be rendered boring, and having her be such usually points to a glaring deficiency of imagination. And yes, Jade, the Snow White figure in this East Asian retelling of the fairy tale is good, but she’s also unconvincingly uncomplicated. Raised in a monastery away from court, she and her nursemaid are summoned back shortly before her 18th birthday. She’s shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that she’ll be used as a political pawn by her father the Emperor, who inherited the throne by marriage instead of blood, and her stepmother, who is the real power behind the throne. In a dramatic reversal from the court of the first book, everyone there loves Jade because she’s so plot device, I mean, nice! And she sees her stepmother doing evil in a dream so clearly the stepmother must be evil, because DREAMS are EVIDENCE in this ridiculous place so far removed from the hothouse setting of political intrigue of the first book. I’m not saying Xifeng isn’t evil, but really, a fucking dream?! I was also annoyed by Jade’s insistence on her right to rule due to her being of “real” imperial blood somehow reinforcing her claim as opposed to making her a snobby elitist brat.

You should probably stop reading here if you don’t want actual spoilers for the rest of the narrative, as I’m so incensed that I’m going to eschew the spoiler tags that I usually prefer to use, because this book was fucking terrible and deserves no respect in that sense.

So anyway, there’s a mostly inoffensive middle part where Jade flees the court and goes to collect a bunch of things that will help her defeat her evil stepmother, but I was irritated that she essentially falls in love with the first dude who’s nice to her after leaving the all-female monastery. It was cool that said dude isn’t your typical YA hero but come the fuck on.

And then that ending. You guys. What the fuck.

It’s all dudes! Dudes save the kingdom! The least offensive part is the resuscitating kiss (tho I scoffed at Jade conveniently explaining that it was the combination of romance with her mother’s love that saved her.) A dude puts together the stuff Jade quested for in order to raise the mystical army, and another dude kills Xifeng (and also strikes a mortal blow at one of the Serpent God’s avatars.) The badass feminist narrative of FoaTL is completely defeated by this bullshit Savior Dudeness. I nearly threw my Kindle down in a rage. The Crimson Army was cool in concept but the execution was terrible, which could be said about this entire book, unfortunately.

Also, wtf, snakes aren’t slimy!!!

I’m still furious with this novel, especially since it’s the follow-up to one of the most brilliant fairy tale retellings I’ve ever enjoyed. Kingdom Of The Blazing Phoenix was complete bullshit, and I’m going to try to pretend it doesn’t exist so that FoaTL can stay pristine in my mind. Wow, I just went back to read the review to FoaTL that I linked to up there and this goddamn book did everything I hoped it wouldn’t do. Wtf, Julie C Dao. Disappointing.

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