The Bird and the Blade is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from debut author Megan Bannen. Set to release in North America on June 5, 2018, The Bird and the Blade is sure to stun fans of the YA Fantasy genre, and those who enjoy a well told, creative retelling.
Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review.
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.
I was intrigued by The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen from the moment I laid eyes on the cover and read the synopsis. But I was also hesitant, because my experience of retellings, even ones wherein I was unfamiliar with the source material (in this case, an opera by the name of Turandot), has been quite negative of late, with the author relying far to heavily on the source material as a crutch, rather than as a fountain of inspiration. Nevertheless, I decided that this was a book I undoubtedly had to read, and I am so glad that I did, because The Bird and the Blade outshone even my wildest expectations!
First and foremost, what blew me away is how beautifully told The Bird and the Blade was. At its core, it comes down to the tale of a slave girl caught up in the middle of impossible circumstances, wherein kings (‘‘kahns’’) are vying for power and a prince is willing to risk everything to save his and his father’s lives – by taking part in the a competition of deadly riddles to win the hand of a potentially deadly princess. The story itself is told in two timelines – the timeline and events leading up to Khalaf’s participation in Turandokht’s riddle challenge, and a timeline beginning with Khalaf’s participation in Turandokht’s riddle challenge, and the ultimate outcomes of this decision.
Beyond the beautiful prose and well crafted telling of this story, I was also drawn in my the characters and their relationships with one another. Jinghua, while promoted as the main character of the story, is in fact more of what one might refer to as a side-character to Khalaf, despite the fact that the story is told through her eyes, but this makes her journey all the more interesting. Jinghua has low self-esteem, limited courage, and lets her heart cloud her judgment over and over again – yet she is adamant in her morals, and despite the horrors she has faced, and steadfast when it comes to protecting the things (and people) she cares for. Khalaf is the true hero of this tale, bargaining with his life and very soul to make the world a better place than the one he was born into. He is clever, caring, and worldly, and seemingly cares more for the lives of those around him – namely his father and Jinghua – than himself, as he consistently launches himself into harm’s way to protect them and find a way to restore them to a life of safety and comfort.
In regards to the relationships in this book, I especially enjoyed the interactions between Jinghua and Timur. While she and the prince have lovely, slow-burning passages together (which will leave readers grinding their teeth with frustration at times!), the love-hate relationship between Jinghua and Khalaf’s proud, egotistical father are easy to enjoy and quite amusing. Timur is a grumpy and authoritarian old man who hates the idea of keeping a slave girl who can’t fight – especially since he suspects her of being a spy – but his opinion of her changes when he notices her intelligence and goodness, and also in the light of her steadfast loyalty to him and his son, despite the hardships that befall them.
My one complaint about The Bird and the Blade is that it was quite a slow-burn. With a journey-style setting that is interspersed with snippets of the current happenings, The Bird and the Blade takes awhile to really get going, and even than the climax certainly wasn’t the pulse-pounding action I was hoping for after such a slow build (though the ending was utterly unexpected and heart-wrenching!).
Overall, The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen is certainly worth the read, especially for fans of YA Fantasy (especially the historical kind) and the YA Retelling genre. With rich descriptions, a beautiful prose, and heart-warmingly human characters and relationships, readers will surely love this one despite the slowness of the plot, and will be astounded by the finale Bannen delivers, which was most certainly worth a bow (4/5)!