**I received an ARC for this blog tour and from a giveaway. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**
Book: Song of the Crimson Flower (The Empress #3) by Julie C. Dao
Release Date: November 5, 2019
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Rep: ownvoices Vietnamese-inspired setting and characters
Summary: From the acclaimed author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns comes a fantastical new tale of darkness and love, in which magical bonds are stronger than blood.
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.
Love isn’t waiting for someone to remember me. Love isn’t dreaming about them all alone. Love is talking together, forgiving each other, finding common threads in the lives we want. I’ve learned that now. You taught me.
I never got around to reading Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, and it’s been a little over two years since I read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. However, you could honestly read this book as a standalone. Song of the Crimson Flower was absolutely stunning, a beautiful tale of the powers of real love.
Honestly, just the first page of the glossary had me in tears; reading all these Vietnamese names, ones that my family members have and ones that I encounter often, in a fantasy was so powerful. Thank you, Julie, for writing a gorgeous ownvoices Vietnamese-inspired fantasy! I also loved how this one still feels a bit Western because the intersection of being Vietnamese-American is very much a mix of Vietnamese and Western culture. (Also, side note: friendly reminder that I have a master-list of books with Vietnamese main characters and/or written by Vietnamese authors.)
The plot was enthralling. You can’t help but be pulled into Feng Lu, a world of magic and mischief. Bao and Lan are going on a dangerous adventure to cure Bao of his curse and find his family, even if they shouldn’t be found. There’s an awkwardness between them because they’re connected by the curse, but Lan had just harshly turned Bao down after he professes his love for her.
Except, the thing is, Lan really isn’t a bad person; she was caught off guard because she had just found out that the man, who she thought was in love with her, wasn’t. Over the years, she’s built up a fantasy version of him in her head, and Bao has done the same with Lan. Both of them operate of faint imitations of love, infatuation really, because they don’t actually know the person they thought they loved. They grow to realize that the versions of people we create in our heads aren’t necessarily the ones we want and definitely not who these people actually are.
This character growth is so amazing; to realize the falsehoods of love when approached by the real thing is such a strong message. Going along with this, the romantic development stole my breath away with the longing of it all.
The prose is gorgeous as well! Julie has really grown as an author, and I loved her beautiful and more succinct writing in this book. The prose laid out a soft and gentle tone, one that gives the book a quiet beauty and emphasizes its message of love.
Song of the Crimson Flower was a gorgeous read that really shows how you can’t be in love with a person if it’s just the version of them you’ve made in your head. I loved the characters and their arcs, as well as the romance. Even if you haven’t read Dao’s other books, don’t let it stop you from picking Song of the Crimson Flower up as soon as possible!
About the Author: Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England.