SONG OF SILVER, FLAME LIKE NIGHT by Amélie Wen Zhao (BOOK REVIEW)
“If you wish to live,” he said quietly, “you will come with me.”
Amélie Wen Zhao is back, this time with a YA xanxia duology starting with Song of Silver, Flame like Night.
Lan is a song girl in a tea house. This wasn’t always her life, but when the Elantians came and invaded her country with their armies in metal armour, their magicians with metal cuffs wielding powerful metal magic, her world was destroyed. All she can do now is survive, and try to discover the secret behind the scar on her arm that only she can see, magically burned there by her mother when she was murdered by an Elantian magician.
What follows is an exciting, action-packed story of magic, rebellion and love, of self-discovery and devastating loss.
Firstly, I’m going to have to talk about the cover. I requested a copy of Song of Silver based entirely from the cover, because it is absolutely gorgeous. Divine, even. I wanted to know who was that person on the bridge and what were these creatures they were facing down. Its a perfect example of cover design absolutely smashing its job, so bravo to artist Diamonster!
Something in particular I loved about this book was Zhao’s magic systems. We start the story believing that all Hin practitioners of magic were wiped out long ago, but Zen soon absolves us of that notion. He is from a secret temple of practitioners, a last remaining bastion hidden from the colonists. He is on a mission when he senses the qi of another practitioner, and tracks it to our heroine Lan. Unfortunately, when Lan unwittingly unleashes her qi to protect herself (CW attempted rape), the Elantian magicians are likewise alerted to her existence. Zen and Lan enact a daring escape, using their qi to create Seals to escape the city. They very nearly do not make it, Lan being injured in the process when the magician she recognises as her mother’s murderer manages to cast a spell on her, his metal magic implanted in her arm. I loved the way in which the two magic systems differed and represented the people practising them. The Hin channel the energy, the qi, all around them, being ever mindful of the importance to keep balance between yang, positive energy, and yin, the destructive energy. In counterpoint, the Elantians harness metal and electricity in a brutal and powerful form of magic; Zhao utilises her magic systems as strong metaphors to reflect what is happening in her world.
Zhao has created a rich and complex history for her world, strongly influenced by China’s history and mythology. The Elantians represent the Western nations that have colonised China, and there were plenty of powerful, thought-provoking moments on the issues surrounding colonisation. The Elantians tear through this land with no regard for its people and culture, believing them ignorant and barbarian. A stark contrast to the beautiful world Zhao paints through our Hin protagonists Lan and Zen.
Ying was the only person in this world who knew Lan’s truename – the one she’d had before the Elantians came and required the Hin to identify by a monosyllabic moniker.
It’s easy to fall for our protagonists Lan and Zen, who have already suffered through so much. Zhao does a wonderful job of drawing these two troubled souls together into a slow-burn romance, as they face down one challenge after another, one enemy after another. If you’re a fan of the found family trope, then you are absolutely going to love Zhao’s cast of characters, and you are absolutely going to hate Zhao by the time you get to the end of the book. Heads-up, there’s heartbreak a-plenty in store.
I don’t want to go into too much detail of the plot and characters, as to stray further from what I have already will start to possibly spoil things.
This is an ambitious, sumptuous, turbulent story. Lan and Zen aren’t perfect by any means; however much you desperately want them to make the right choices, Zhao’s world simply isn’t that straight-forward. If you love high-drama love stories set against sweeping Chinese vistas, then this is absolutely the story for you.
Song of Silver, Flame like Night is available now from HarperCollins. Order your copy HERE