Just so you know, I’m going to be listening to zither music while I write this review.
The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.
But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.
Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged—while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one—and not all of them are human.
An epic YA fantasy about found family, rivals, and identity, from New York Times and Indie bestselling author Joan He, inspired by Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Classics of Chinese Literature.
I’ve been really getting into both C-dramas and books inspired by C-dramas. It first started off with Daughter of the Moon Goddess and Iron Widow, but now I’m anticipating some new ones in the new year. And what better way to celebrate this new genre of YA fantasy fiction than with another C-drama inspired story.
Strike the Zither follows Peacock or better known as Zephyr. She’s a strategist for Ren’s army who is currently fighting two other armies for dominance on the land. She’s a bit full of herself and a bit pompous, but you know how much I love an unlikeable female character. She thinks she knows everything, can think way ahead of anyone else and believes she has the best solution for any situation. And with that, she decides to infiltrate the enemy’s army by defecting and joining Miasma’s ranks. However, things don’t go so well for Zephyr and bigger secrets are revealed in the process. As a fan of military fantasies in general, I knew that I would really like Strike the Zither especially as its modeled off the famous Three Kingdoms story. But as someone who doesn’t know much about the tale, I found it to be intriguing, impassioned, and filled with so many of the things I love about military fantasies, except in YA form.
As a fan of C-dramas, this was seriously a play out of the book. I absolutely adored the different tropes Joan He uses to make this story her own. The big reveals just kept getting bigger and while I wasn’t a fan of how quickly the beginning half moved, I understand that it was to start the second half which truly deepened the world, the characters, and the story for me.
The surprises throughout this story were totally unforeseen and totally fun! I absolutely loved that this had that C-drama vibe with its big reveals, romantic entanglements, and battle scenes. I absolutely loved getting into this new book from Joan He and it’s a departure from her usual writing style (but for the better). Unlike her books in the past, this one felt more linearly structured with a clear idea of where the story is going. I absolutely adored The Ones We’re Meant to Find just because of its complexity and puzzle for two sisters to find each other, but I love Strike the Zither to allow He to explore a level of her writing that I personally haven’t explored (yet, Descendant of the Crane is still on my list).
And similarly to TOWMTF, this one has some sisterly love throughout. While they may not be related by blood, the bonds of war truly create a sisterhood that rivals a real one. I really loved the relationship Zephyr had not only with her battle sisters, Lotus and Cloud, but also with her ministress, Ren. It’s obvious by the way they treat and respect each other creating bonds between them that work beyond themselves.
I think the only issue I had is with the romantic elements. It was a little too instant for me and really wanted to see if it would play out similarly in C-dramas, but there are still books in this series to be written so I’m hoping these will develop more in the future.
Overall, this was so good and if you’re a fan of complex military fantasy with tons of subterfuge then this is for you. It isn’t perfect, but it’s truly the beginning of something perfect. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series in the future.