I really looked forward to this book. It is loosely based on Three Kingdoms, which I’ve loved since I was a kid. The battles and the strategies were epic and intelligent and I’d hoped that I would feel the same magic when reading Strike the Zither.
As much as I enjoyed my read and thought it was well written, I didn’t get that incredible sense of amazement that I got from reading Daughter of the Moon Goddess and The Poppy War, books I would slot into a similar category. Perhaps the issue isn’t so much with the book itself, but my high expectations of it.
The most well-known stratagems and battles in the Three Kingdoms saga, like the borrowing of arrows and burning of chained ships, were epic to say the least. I didn’t get that vibe from similar events in this book. Most of the grand events were glossed over. For instance, the story tells us that the ships were going to burn. It tells us that the ships did burn. It didn’t show us the ships burning as it happened. As a result, we get intelligent strategies in the build-up, leading us to anticlimactic events that fall flat.
I would also have preferred more world-building, more explanation of the lay of the land, more history of how each of the key characters rose to the stations we find them in. Some events felt disjointed throughout the story. The writing was good, but still wasn’t as sophisticated as I would’ve liked; for instance, there was an overuse and overreliance on italics as a way of emphasis, when ideally emphasis should mostly be done through the language and word choices. I mean, there were entire lines of dialogue in italics. It's like running a yellow highlighter across half a page of notes, and nothing jumps out at you anymore.
All that said, I still enjoyed this book. It was very easy to read. The pacing was fast. There were interesting twists and turns. I liked this world where women can rule and fight. I really liked the fact that—unlike many stories these days that make their female leads into flawless all-rounded heroines who can fight and do powerful magic and are also ridiculously hot—Zephyr is nothing like that; she cannot even raise a sword.
TLDR; It's not one of my favourite Asian historical fantasies out there, but I am still very keen on the sequel.
Completed: 7 October 2022
This month's audiobook
The Bone Shard Daughter is a multi-POV fantasy featuring a unique magic system that involves the use of bone shards to create and control magical constructs. For a geek who loves coding, I was excited to learn that the way bone shard magic works reminds me of programming logic and conditions.
I can't say for sure if it was actually Stewart's writing or the audio narration, but I found myself bored to tears with 3 out of 5 of the POVs. Other than Lin and Jovis' stories, I 95% zoned out of the other 3 POVs. It was these POVs that made the story unnecessarily long for me and the reason for the average rating.
This was my second ever Audible audiobook (the first was The Handmaid's Tale which I didn't like so much either). So when I finished this, I thought perhaps I'm simply not an audiobook person. However, by the time I began this review, I'd just listened to over an hour of The Widow of Walcha, which I am genuinely enjoying far more. Therefore, I am inclined to say that the problem lies more with the book itself.
If I had copious amounts of time, I would be intrigued enough to read the sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor. This story is not bad. It's just that unfortunately, I have far too many books on my ever-growing TBR list already.
Completed: 5 October 2022