*I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
Title: The Bird and the Blade
Author: Megan Bannen
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
As a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom … until she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father as they flee from their enemies across the vast Mongol Empire. On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into a hopeless love.
Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.
Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of … even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.
Review: I can honestly say that I went into this book not knowing what to expect. This was a beautiful story filled with romance, tragedy, betrayal, and political war. It’s set in the Mongol Empire, but also draws on the Song Dynasty as well. The history and culture used to create this fantasy world is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I also enjoyed how the story is told in parts alternating between the past and present.
The book is told from the perspective of a slave named Jinghua who disguises herself as a man (Mulan vibes anyone?) and goes on the run with Timur Khan and his son Prince Khalaf. They are being hunted by the Great Khan and end up on a perilous journey across the Mongol Empire seeking refuge where they can. Jinghua and Khalaf have this kind of slow-burn chemistry the entire time and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something to happen! Timur was hilarious because he was basically a grumpy old man whining about everything and Jinghua didn’t take any of his crap.
When Khalaf goes off to seek out Turandokht in order to answer her riddles and put his life on the line in hopes of restoring his family, Jinghua and Timur go after him. Turandokht’s character was interesting to me because she refuses to marry any man and believes she is superior to everyone around her because of her vast knowledge. There were definitely strong themes of gender disparity and hybris. The story alternates between the riddles and how Khalaf ended up there. While the back and forth might seem confusing, it was actually really well done and I liked having the backstory in between. There was definitely a lot of suspense because I had no idea where it was going to end up.
This book was pitched to me as historical fiction that reads like a fantasy and that’s what got me interested. I was unsure I would like it at first because the beginning did start off kind of confusing, but once I got deeper into the plot I really enjoyed the story. To be honest, it was tricky getting a hang of the terminology, places, and names used and I was super grateful for the map and character list included.
Megan Bannen has done an incredible job bringing the rich culture of the Mongol Empire and Song Dynasty and her own imagination together to create this beautifully heart-wrenching story. It feels so fleshed out and three-dimensional and I felt very connected to it. This book was so difficult to put down and I honestly only did because I needed to sleep.
The Bride and the Blade is reminiscent of a Shakespeare tragedy and I loved the poetry of it. What I didn’t realize going in is that my poor soul was going to be torn out and my heart ripped to shreds. I definitely fell for the characters and the beauty of the story hard. There was also a pretty big twist near the end which I definitely did not see coming!