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Strike the Zither by Joan He

Hello Babblers!

This week I’ve been reading “Strike the Zither” by Joan He, a reimagining of the Chinese classic tale the Three Kingdoms. Typically, I’m a sucker for reimaginings, especially when they have maps and character sketches at the beginning like this one.

So, how did this one stack up? Well, let’s get to it!

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

NetGalley Blurb:

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.

What I liked about the book:

1. The book included a map and character art for four of the FMCs that were totally to die for! Not sure why we didn’t get character art for at least Crow as well, but whatever…

2. Overall, I liked the strategy aspect of the book. Did I sometimes feel it was daunting and overshadowed real character development? Yes, but it was still good nonetheless.  

3. It was well written, there is no denying that. It was grammatically correct and there were no misspellings that I found. Also, the writing was anything but plain. From the prettiest to the gnarliest of moments, the description was what kept me reading this one through to the end.

What could have been better:

1. Ok, here goes. I didn’t like a single character. T0urmaline was ok I guess, since she seemed to have the greatest “character development”, if you want to call it that, though I wouldn’t.

While the strategy was so well developed, there was no connection to the characters in the writing. I am a big character person. I don’t even need a real plot if characters are amazing, that’s just the type of reader I am. However, no matter how good a book is, if it’s lacking a character connection for me, I’m not going to like it. Plain and simple.

I loved the idea of Zephyr and Crow. I loved what I wanted Crow to be and what he was probably hiding (because he most definitely was!). What I did not love was wading through each of their conversations, hoping to find some gem in this book written like “War for Dummies”, to have them be unsatisfactory EVERY.DAMN.TIME!

In fact, here is my complete, unbridled opinion: if the characters had been more developed and not like Sims characters walking around, bumping into one another, and falling into monotonous conversations, this would have been a 5-star read for me. But they weren’t, so it’s not.

2. This book takes a turn at about the halfway point. This turn had me losing any interest that I had. I’m not sure if it’s because the Mary Sue aspect of Zephyr’s character was heighted even more at this point, or because we were introduced to more characters I had no connection to, but it just became a lot to try to enjoy.

Final Thoughts:

This is a very well written book, it’s just not for me.

Final Rating: 3 body-snatching stars. IYKYK.

Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Roaring Brook Press, and Joan He for book one in this anticipated duology in exchange for my honest review!

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