Songs of Insurrection by J.C. Kang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Princess Wang Kaiya is just a pawn. The foreign (and very handsome) Prince Hardeep Vaswani wants her to wield her new-found magic to save his beloved country, Ankira. Her father needs to marry her off to the right noble to stabilise Cathay and his grip on the throne. What can a sixteen-year-old still learning to use her powers do in the face of such confusing politics and constantly-shifting allegiances? Are her powers even real?
I'd put this at something like a 3.5, honestly, because there are some bits that I liked quite a lot, but others that I didn't so much.
Kaiya is young and female in a very misogynistic culture, which also means she is underestimated once she learns of her magic and starts standing up for what is right. She's well-educated, but very inexperienced and awkward, making her the underdog in this story. You come to root for her despite her very stupid decisions because of the strength of her convictions and good intentions. I'm not quite a fan of this instalove or puppy crush thing she has on Hardeep, though I suppose it's... understandable? Maybe? (Mark this down as I'm-too-old-for-this-shit) Personally, my verdict is that she's stupid, but not Too Stupid To Live. Part of this is also the third person POV, I think, which gives a more balanced perspective to her actions and reasoning plus also makes it pretty clear when she's blatantly being manipulated without her realising it.
The politics of Cathay are complex. There's the Mandate of Heaven to think of, repercussions of Hellstorm if the Emperor were to renege on an agreement sworn on the imperial plaque. The neighbouring countries of Madura and Ankira are fighting in the South, rebellion fermenting in the North, and the Tianzi needs to balance all of that while keeping the hereditary Lords happy. Which means compromise. And bribes. And marrying off the princess for political gain. There's a bureaucracy to appease and the military to pacify. All of which makes for pretty dense politics for Kaiya to navigate without proper training.
No, actually, I think Kaiya's part of the politics were easier to read than what Zheng Tien and Yan Jie, agents of the Black Lotus Clan, start uncovering. There's so much underhanded dealing (Bribes! Murder! Betrayal! Weird business deals!) that I got a little cross-eyed and skimmed a little (Sorry, bad reading habit). I think there was a point where some goods were substituted for other goods and if you trace these goods you'll find out who was rebelling and who was betraying who and then I couldn't remember what goods were from what province so I just moved on.
Some content warnings might be necessary, I suppose.
- One of Kaiya's suitors is known to torture women, and there is a brief scene of sorts. (Not graphic, but a little unsettling.)
- The concept/typology of the Bovyan might offend some Christians, though they're mentioned only very briefly in the story itself. (It was a "lol, what?" moment for me)
- The misogyny and racism of the culture are never directly addressed. Some offhand statements which come across as insulting, while true to the culture/worldbuilding, are not dealt with/addressed within the story.
Still, it was overall quite an interesting read.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Dragonstone Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
View all my reviews