Jade has lived a simple life in the monastery, working alongside the monks to tend their gardens and care for the villagers in the surrounding country. Only her Amah and the abbess know that Jade is not a simple peasant - she is the princess and heir to the kingdom. Summoned to the capital by her stepmother Xifeng, Jade starts on a journey that will take her far from home and everything familiar. The world of the imperial court could not be more different from the world she has grown up in, the extravagant gowns she wears would help the monastery support hundreds of peasants, and the lavish food is something she had never imagined. It is a world of secrets, intrigues, and people hiding their true intentions and natures behind carefully crafted masks.
When Jade discovers what her stepmother is really like she is forced to flee from the imperial city, a fugitive accused of crimes she didn't commit. Along with her companions there is only one home for not only Jade, but also her entire kingdom - she must complete the dangerous quest to find and reunite the hidden treasures of the five kingdoms. If Jade can succeed in her quest she will call forth ah army taht will be capable of stopping Xifeng and the army of the Serpent God she controls. The quest will not be easy, she will have to remember the stories that Amah told her, and solve puzzles that can have deadly consequences if she gets the wrong answer. As she searches across the five kingdoms she must always be aware of Kang and the serpent warriors who dog their steps the entire way. Jade never wanted to be anything more than a monk, but now the fate of the entire kingdom rests in her hands.
Kingdom of the blazing phoenix is the perfect companion novel to Forest of a thousand lanterns and it brings the duology to a very satisfying end. In the first book the focus is on Xifeng and how she rises to power, what she sacrifices to become empress and the cunning manipulation of the Serpent God to get what he wants. By the time we reached the end of Forest of a thousand lanterns she had slipped from young girl to powerful and cunning empress, and her path for conflict with Jade was set. In Kingdom of the blazing phoenix we see the results and a story that seems to echo the story of Snow White more strongly, but it is an echo only because Julie C. Dao has taken that rather simple fairy tale and created a world that is richly layered with depth of culture, history, and characters.
With this series we see that the 'villain' is not always that villainous, sometimes they are a victim of circumstance and fate too. I love worlds that make sense with a deep mythology that you can follow and adds depth to the story, and Dao has created a mythology that feels completely real. Jade and her companions travel on a quest that creates challenges and conflicts, and also makes them grow and change as people which makes it feel more genuine and engaging. There are some amazing themes in this series, and there is scope for Dao to create more stories in this world (something that would be amazing). A must read for fans of richly imagined fantasy worlds - including adults!
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- The girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson
- Walk on Earth a stranger by Rae Carson
- Court of fives by Kate Elliott
- Winter of fire by Sherryl Jordan
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- Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
- Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst