by Ellen Oh
First sentence: “People feared Kira.”
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In the seven kingdoms on this peninsula, there are two problems: first is the force of the Yamato nation to the south: greedy and powerful, they are looking to conquer the nations to the north. Second, is trickier: the demons who kill and then possess people, infiltrating armies and families in order to take over the world.
While Kira, even though she’s the daughter of the Hansong kingdom general and niece to its queen, can’t do much about the first problem, she’s the only defense the people have against the second. She can sense — through smell and sight — demons, knowing exactly whom to attack and how to kill them. Except, the only people who know truly what she does are her father and the king. The rest of the populace think she’s some sort of demon herself, ostracizing her.
Then the unthinkable happens: a traitor kills the royal family, and lets in the Yamato soldiers (and a few demons). Kira, her brother, a trusted monk, and some loyal soldiers are on the run, solely responsible for the young prince’s safety. She’s lost her parents in the attack, she’s on the run, she’s responsible for her cousin, and on top of that, there’s this Prophecy about the Dragon Musado that’s hanging over everyone’s head. What’s a girl to do.
I have to give props to Oh for creating a brilliant world. I liked the Korean influence in the world, from the land through to the various Korean words (with a glossary!) sprinkled throughout. I thought she handled the whole prophecy thing pretty well; it wasn’t a Chosen One exactly, and because the prophecy was old enough and vague enough, there wasn’t a set List of Hoops she had to jump through over the course of the story. I did like her family loyalty, and the fact that her parents believed in her capabilities. (Which is why, sadly, they had to go.)
However, the book fell flat for me. Some of it was the writing: too much telling (“Kira hid her disappointment.” “Kira was puzzled.” “She pondered her father’s words, profoundly affected by his confidence in her.”) and not nearly enough showing. Which made the book choppy. Especially choppy was the attempt at romance. Kira’s been betrothed to a horrid man, and she doesn’t like him. But he goes around preening that she will love him, and that he can’t wait to get married. All the while, she’s developing a friendship with another young man, and it’s a nice enough relationship, until Kira starts having “feelings” that she doesn’t know what to do with. It’s not enough to make this uninteresting to a MG reader, but it is enough to wonder why Oh felt it necessary to include. The story was fine without it.
So, it’s a mixed bag. While I am happy there’s a Korean-inspired fantasy out there, I’m not sure this was enough to make me interested in keeping up on the series.