If you had to only read one guest post in your life, this is the one I’d recommend, and I’m not just saying this because it’s on my blog.
(Also, welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Megan Bannen’s The Bird and the Blade etc. etc. giveaway etc. please keep reading I promise you need this book in your life etc. etc. etc.)
I mean, first off, there’s obvious benefit of a giveaway at the end of the post, so the least you can do is click, scroll, click, and enter. And boom! You might just win a book.
And what makes it even cooler, is it’s not just any book. It’s MY FAVORITE READ OF 2018 SO FAR; Y’ALL READ THIS BOOK! I’ll try to contain my excitement so this whole post isn’t in screamy-caps, but seriously, this book is golden.
Megan Bannen’s The Bird and the Blade is the Asian fantasy novel based in the thirteenth century feat. Mongols that you’ve all been dying to read. You have not lived until you have read this book.
It’s a retelling of the opera Turandot set in 13th century Asia where the Mongols have reign over the country. Jinghua is a slave who has lost everything–her family, her home, and her freedom. When she finds herself a conspirator in Prince Khalaf & his father’s flee from their enemies across the vast Mongol Empire, Jinghua tries to devise a scheme to return home, all while she falls hopelessly in love with the prince.
But things take a turn for the worse when Khalaf tries to save his kingdom by marrying the evasive Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan who refuses to marry anyone who doesn’t answer her three impossible riddles correctly. With so much on the line, Jinghua has many decisions ahead of her that put both herself and those she loves on the line.
This aesthetic sums up this book so well in my opinion, so just get ready for all the Asian fantasy vibes (and Bannen writes it all wonderfully!)
I have to admit, I’m not usually one to read a lot of extra content. I don’t go actively seeking out author interviews and exclusive short stories after reading a book. But, reason number three for why you should keep reading this post is that if you could only read one piece of extra content in your entire life, I’d totally recommend this one because Megan Bannen’s guest post totally blew me out of the water and made me cackle!
You don’t need to read the book to find the humor in this, but I do totally recommend rereading this after you read the book because it definitely becomes a lot funnier! So, without further ado, start off by enjoying Ask Megan: An Advice Column!
In addition to being the only child of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, I am a genius as well. Why am I expected to marry just because I’m a girl? Why can’t I rule the world by myself? I’m more than capable. Anyway, I’ve got this deal going wherein any guy who wants to marry me has to answer three riddles or face execution, and since I’m brilliant, I’ve outsmarted everyone so far. Even so, it’s getting old. How can I get these menfolk to understand I DON’T NEED THEM?
Frustrated in Khanbalik
Dear Frustrated in Khanbalik,
You are so right. You shouldn’t have to get married if you don’t want to, and it sounds like you’ve got this empire-ruling thing under control. Do you have to kill off your suitors, though? Can’t you just send them packing? Using violence to solve your problems is such a man thing to do. You’re a woman, sister – be better than that!
Rotting carrion! My khanate has just been defeated by my enemy, and now I’m hoofing it across Central Asia with my son and a useless slave girl who sings too much. I’m trying to figure out how to get my khanate back and, better yet, rule the whole Mongol Empire, and here’s my son getting moony-eyed with this slave and spouting off a bunch of flowery poetry. Why did I send him off to be educated in the first place?? How am I going to convince this kid to get with the program??
Dear Old Goat,
You are broke and homeless, and you think you’re going to rule the empire someday? This is a whole new level of narcissism. I can’t even. Sit down and shut up and listen to your son for a change, because that education might come in handy. And quit putting down the girl, you sexist jerk. There’s a whole lot more to her than you will ever know. (Also, you’re totally my favorite character, and I love you so much.)
So hypothetically speaking, if someone had to answer three riddles to marry a princess, and if he got to the last riddle and couldn’t figure out how to answer it, um, what should he do, especially if he’s madly in love with a girl he can’t have because he’s a prince and has to marry a high-ranking lady?
Asking for a Friend
Dear Asking for a Friend,
Whew, that was stupid thing to do. I’m guessing your “friend”’s girlfriend is going to have to bail him out. Again. My advice is to ditch the princess and make a run for it with the girl who has your heart. I mean, “his” heart. *wink wink*
My home was overrun by the Mongols a couple of years ago, and I wound up as a slave in the Kipchak Khanate in the farthest reaches of the Mongol Empire. But the khanate just lost a war, and now I’m on the run with Prince Khalaf and his crotchety old father. At first, I thought I could use their exile as a way to get back home, but I’ve kind of fallen in love with Khalaf, and now he’s gone and entered a contest to marry Princess Turandokht that could result in his death. Plus, I’ve got all these secrets, and if Khalaf knew about them, he would hate me. Halp!
Dear Little Bird,
Gurl, just kiss him.
Oh my gosh, how funny were those? I totally recommend rereading this after you finish the book because they become even more hilarious when you understand some of the references.
If you want to read more about my thoughts on The Bird and the Blade, you can read my review under those five flowers below (aka, 5 BIG FAT GOLDEN STARS TO THIS BOOK), or you could just jump straight to the giveaway at the bottom!
This book has ruined me.
The standards for YA fantasy just shot up to the moon after this book. Because this was extraordinarily heart-wrenching as well as engaging and absorbing and completely amazing.
I am wrecked. This book was glorious.
The first sign that this was just an amazing read was that I devoured the whole thing in one day. This is a 400+ page book and I just blew through the ARC so quickly.
It wasn’t just one thing that was keeping me hooked–it was the whole story in general. I think one of the most important parts is how original this whole story and concept was.
This isn’t your standard white medieval fantasy, and there’s actually zero magic in this whatsoever. It’s one of those “labeled-as-fantasy-but-not-actually-fantasy-just-badass-historical-fiction” novels, which I always adore because you don’t need magic to make a great fantasy novel.
Literally everyone in this book is Asian. So shoutout to my fam! The sheer amount of Asian culture portrayed in this novel was fantastic and I just loved reading all of the characters who were helped portray my family’s culture in literature.
Yes, I might be a little biased that we’re finally getting more Asian fantasies, but who can blame me? I did initially have a couple reservations because this is being written by a non-Asian woman, but I think Bannen did a great job with the representation and really researched everything well.
Obviously, she took liberties with the story, but I love how she kept enough historical context and hints to keep it grounded in the time period. For instance, Bannen let Jinghua, the main character, call Timur, the guy who is kind of like a grumpy adopted grandfather to her, “old goat,” even though this would have never happened in that time period.
Yet, in keeping this affectionate term, Bannen gave the novel more than she took away from the history, and the relationship between Jinghua and Timur was fantastic and adorable and #famgoals. Timur is literally the GOAT (ba dum bum crash).
But anyways, back to the Mongols. I loved how Bannen managed to easily convey all of the history to the reader without making it feel info-dumpy. Like, the Mongols and Chinese dynasties are all really tough and their politics are complicated, but Bannen incorporated it seamlessly and managed to relay to the reader about how the Song Dynasty and Mongols interacted & how the Mongol Empire worked.
If only Bannen had written all of my AP World History textbooks, maybe then I would have done better in that class.
But even beyond the fantastic premise, this was just a fantastic book in general.
The way Bannen conveyed the story was lovely to read and I thought the alternating from 1281 (short chapters about a trial) and 1280 (what led them to getting there) both fit really well, and if you pay attention, you can solve the trials based on the backstory attached to it. (Pay close attention to what’s printed at the top of your pages…)
It was a little weird for Bannen to have jumped way back in time to 1278 for around 50 pages, but in the end those 50 pages ended up being very much worth it, and I really love how they pushed the story further.
And when it pushed the story further along and forced it to continue, it was like it set off a nuclear reaction of just a bunch of emotionally-wrecking and mind-blowing plot twists and events.
The ending gutted me and I’ll be crying myself to sleep tonight, even though I have no tears left after sobbing them all out reading this book. I should probably go drink some water. (TW: suicide)
But it was so heart-wrenching, and this is actually based off of the opera Turandot, which I’ll have to check out, but I don’t recommend you read the summary of the opera unless you want to spoil the book’s ending for yourself.
I just really loved reading it and the plot was engaging and the pacing complemented it and helped it move along all the way to that ending who we shall not talk about.
And with all this raving about the plot being so amazing, you’re probably expecting terrible character development, but it’s not! It’s really not!
I adored the characters, and not just the “old goat” relationship.
Jinghua is really, really complicated. For a couple minutes after reading this, I didn’t like what she had done. I found it oddly controversial because I didn’t agree with her actions on account of love.
But on the other hand, I keep battling with myself over her actions because I also felt like she still had justification behind her actions besides just love.
And now, half a week later, I still have no idea if I condone Jinghua’s actions or not, and I really love this. This book is making me think–like how The Female of the Species made you think about Alex’s actions. I’m thinking about Jinghua’s actions and the merits behind it.
Was it her way of showing she had agency despite being a slave? Was it something else? I may never know or understand, but I think this is a truly marvelous book that totally blew me out of the water.
This debut is one I’d highly recommend even to non-fantasy fans. I am absolutely stunned by it and think it’s something everyone should read both to enjoy and to think. This is a wonderful novel rich in culture, steeped in technique, and something that I will definitely want to reread.
More About the Book
The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
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.
More About the Author
Megan Bannen is a librarian and the author of THE BIRD AND THE BLADE. In her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities. While most of her professional career has been spent in public libraries, she has also sold luggage, written grants, and taught English at home and abroad. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, their two sons, and a few too many pets with literary names. She can be found online at www.meganbannen.com.
Want to try your hand at winning a copy of The Bird and the Blade? Check out the giveaway in the Rafflecopter button below where one lucky winner will receive a hardcopy of The Bird and the Blade (US only)! But, if you’re not willing to leave it to chance, check out the buy links in the “More About the Book” section!
Thank you so much to Megan Bannen for providing me with a physical ARC from her giveaway, and also to Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray and the Fantastic Flying Book Club for providing me with a digital review copy as well! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops below!