Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie Dao
In the conclusion to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, we experience the story of Snow White, minus the seven dwarves but with an Asian flare. Gone is the rosy cheeked songstress who forest animals flock around. Instead, meet Jade, the monk-raised beauty born the Dragon King’s heir and destined to rule Feng Lu.
Evil rules the land
Jade’s step mother, Xifeng, is so evil she, breaks from the Snake King in order to fulfill her own evil path rather then his. I can easily imagine that her blood ran thick, dark, and vile like the dark sludge she threw countless numbers of murdered women in and the poison she used to kill a dragon and create the iconic poison apple. There is nothing that moves a plot along faster than an evil villain who is so smart she manages to thwart the heroine at every turn. You have to keep reading to make sure that good does eventually win.
Love is the real hero
At the end of the day, love was the hero. It was love that finally led to Xifeng’s demise in the form of Wei, the man who loved her so much he couldn’t let the monster she had turned into continue to live. When he plunged that sword into an unsuspecting Xifeng, he did not do it for Jade or to be a hero, he did it for the young, kind-hearted girl that he fell in love with once upon a time.
Love also saved Jade, who had died after eating the poison apple, and made it possible for her ghost of a brother to rise as a tragic hero. Like Snow White though, Jade’s death was short lived and she was brought back to life with love’s true kiss just as Snow White was. As we know from countless stories, in the end there is no stronger magic than love. To use an old adage, love conquers all.
The continent of Feng Lu
Through the course of the story, we are led out of the great forest to the other distinct and beautiful lands that make up Feng Lu and, with Dao’s descriptive writing, we are transported to a world of enthralling beauty that captivates the mind and tickles the senses. You are encouraged to smell the salty air of the ocean, feel the biting sting of the sands in the desert, and hear the roar of a raging river. Then there are the subtler sensations, the chirp of the crickets, the glow of the many lanterns, and the smell of the dreaded poison. It all comes together to make an imaginative story that readers can’t help but love.
Dao does not write a new story but she writes a reimagined story with vivid imagery, a conceptual hero, and a cast of characters that keep you turning the page with eager anticipation. I have enjoyed this two book series immensely and encourage other readers to do the same.