The return to the kingdoms of Feng Lu relies heavily on the richly detailed East Asian worldbuilding.
Eight prosperous years after Empress Jade and Lord Koichi completed their quest to defeat the evil Empress Xifeng, a terrifying bloodpox outbreak and the illegal trade of forbidden black spice has left the kingdom on the brink of war. Bao is a gentle-spirited orphan and a physician’s apprentice whose heartbreak over Lan, the royal minister’s marriageable daughter, drives him to seek out a river witch. The witch turns out to be his vengeful aunt, who curses Bao with blood magic—casting a spell that traps him in his beloved flute. Lan deeply regrets her harsh words to Bao and vows to help him break the curse. A sincere declaration of love before the next full moon will break the spell, so the two embark on an epic journey to find answers. Lan and Bao’s story is a stand-alone tale, but fans of the Rise of the Empress duology will appreciate the entourage meeting up once again with Commander Wei, Wren, Jade, and Koichi. In this latest quest, characters are literally and figuratively transparent, and mentions of the long-dead Xifeng’s rise to villainy only makes readers long for more intriguing characters. Unfortunately, this companion title is weak in character development and engaging dialogue.
An ambitious premise that does not live up to previous entries in complexity and depth. (Fantasy adventure. 12-16)