Song of the Crimson Flower centers two souls with love forlorn and bound by a curse.
The maiden Lan who has been devoted most of her life to becoming the perfect bride to her childhood love Tam who eventually deserted her to be free from filial. Physician apprentice Bao, who confessed his true intentions for Lan and his secret connection to the boatman who visits in the night to offer songs, poetry, and devotion. With broken a heart, Lan cruelly rejects Bao who flees and returns cursed, trapped in his prized flute.
Regretting her previous actions, Lan vows to aid Bao break the curse and in their quest they might pull tensions tighter in the spread of an unusual disease whose cure might just be the trigger in the looming war between kingdoms. Will Lan and Bao find true love to undo the spell or will blood magic ruin everything in its wake?
What initially grabbed my interest on Song of the Crimson flower was that it’s an Asian-inspired fantasy which the book community really wanted more of and this is a well-crafted tale indeed. It strung familiar concepts often depicted in Asian-epic dramas and made more interesting where the reader gets to interpret their own versions based on the narratives offered.
Julie C. Dao employs decent world building. I enjoyed the descriptions of the river-folk community, its households, the inhabitants, and their ways. I liked how Dao slowly ushered as in the larger geography of this world through conversations and encounters. I never liked books that want to immediately let the reader be an expert of the world by providing all the details. I better jive with window writers than those who fully open doors.
Song of the Crimson Flower is my first book from Dao and I am fully aware that it plays in a larger world spanning the Rise of the Empress duology. There were mentions of past and current empresses as well as a serpent god and I may have not taken full advantage of the narrative by not reading those prior. I might have connected better with the characters if I felt how these things that occurred in the past affected them more intimately. Nonetheless, this book could still be read on its own and I still very much enjoyed it.
This book’s mettle is in the pockets of tales of the individual struggles. I love how the book portrayed the characters’ individual plights: women being treated in household permanence, primed to be claimed as brides; where glory is perceived in lineage and financial brawn; or the grueling pressure of living up to family legacies in the expense of one’s true desires. One heavy theme in Asian cultures are pre-determined marriages set in tradition or superstition where the pairing should be auspicious, blessed by the gods, lest not be pursued. It is great to see these predicaments unfold and play out in the grander scheme of things. Fantastical these may be; they still ripple similar sentiments in the present contemporary times.
I find Lan and Bao’s romance endearing. I am not usually a fan of romance in books but this one I liked because of the little nuances in Lan’s acknowledging that she might have also been paying attention to Bao ever since and Bao rediscovering her passionate adoration for Lan while dealing with the obstacles they both have to face. To be honest, I was not really set to like them but their dynamic grew on me.
"People make mistakes, Bao thought. Hearts get broken, but somehow we forget the pain. Or choose the chance of happiness in spite of the pain."
Amidst complex political dances, there is this question of morality to one’s cause nestled in this book. The surge of the bloodpox, its origin, and potential cure were factors exploited by people who may have noble intentions but obscure kindness in their wake, wreaking havoc to everything in its path. It teaches us that the end does not justify the mean and I quote Friedrich Nietzsche, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you“.
In hindsight, I would have loved more magical elements presented. There were also instances that the book dragged especially at the first few chapters. Notwithstanding, this is still a book I thoroughly enjoyed. If you want romance, friendships, adventure, and hope – – – Song of the Crimson Flower awaits you.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Ideas and opinions in this review are all mine and are not influenced by neither publisher nor author. I would like to thank The Royal Polar Bear Reads and The Nocturnal Fey for hosting this blog tour.
- FORMAT: eARC
- PUBLISHER: Philomel Books
- ISBN-10: —-
- ISBN-13: 9781524738358
- RATING: 3.5 stars