The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen
I’ll just start out with saying that this book tore me up. I cried and cried and then after it ended, I couldn’t get that last crucial scene out of my mind, playing it over and over and wondering how in the world it could possibly end that way. Not a great start to a review, I know you’re thinking “why give it 4 stars then?” but to be honest, this book wrecked me and broke my heart in the best way possible. It was moving, and powerful and sent a message that really sticks with you after the last page has come to an end. I can’t tell you the last book that really made me feel such strong emotions. To still have some of these scenes playing so vividly in my mind tells me that this was more than just a bit of fiction. This holds a powerful story in its pages that is crying to be told. That needs to be told.
I saw an interview with Megan Bannen talking about this book, and she mentioned that she wrote this based off of the opera Turandot. I have never seen this opera, or heard it but Megan Bannen said that as she was watching she noticed that in the opera based around the princess Turandot, one character stood out to her amongst the rest, and she was moved to tell the story of the poor slave girl instead of the princess. That the real hero was the slave in the story and she couldn’t get it out of her head, just like I felt at the end of this book!!! So she decided to write The Bird and the Blade as a way to tell the slave’s story, and from it this heartbreakingly good book was born,.
Jinghua, after her home was conquered by the Mongols, is captured and is thrown into slavery by the Kipchak Khanate. Suffering from nightmares of her dead brother she is barely getting by. And it seems this bleak existence is to be hers for the rest of her life until that kingdom is also conquered by enemy forces and she somehow finds herself on the run with none other than the kind Prince Khalaf and his father, grumpy and half blind King Timur. The take off on a journey across the Mongol Empire on the run after nearly their entire kingdom has been massacred. And with enemies everywhere looking to erase them from existence. Jinghua sees this as an opportunity to make it back to her homeland and disguises herself as a soldier who is willing to serve the prince and king no matter the danger that lies ahead. The only problem is that along the journey, she begins to fall for Prince Khalaf and his plans to solve the Princess Turandokht’s riddles to become her husband and save his kingdom don’t sit well with her. For if even one riddle isn’t solved, then Khalaf will have sacrificed his life for nothing. And as intelligent as he may be, Jinghua can’t let this happen.
I don’t know how to describe the setting and the characters of this book other than that they were absolultey perfect. Everything was so easy to comprehend and visualize and I felt like the characters were old friends after a few chapters. They stay true to their personalities and history so well and you can see how much planning and research went into creating this beautiful story. I was surprised by how much I came to endear poor old Timur. Being a cranky old goat at first, you can’t imagine ever feeling anything other than frustration from the old man. But his soft heart shines through eventually and the relationship he has with his son and Jinghua begins to melt away all the coldness from the beginning. It kills me that Jinghua struggles so much with her feelings between returning home and helping Khalaf for most of the journey. The slow budding romance was definitely no insta love. I thought it was absolutely beautiful though how they became so close through the knowledge and wisdom they shared with each other. The stories and songs that they shared were the set up for a perfect love story.
The Author’s note at the end of the book goes to show just exactly how much research did go into creating this beauty. I loved how much information was given to the reader from the beginning with a cast of characters, and then a map of the area, and then once you’ve finished there is a glossary with pronunciations, and the author’s note that explains the opera in which this was based off of. There is also a brief bit about each of the dynasties involved, and a list of all the songs and stories told between Khalaf and Jinghua along their journey. I love that these were not just made up but had actual history to them and related to the story so well. It’s amazing how much went into this book and I think it is obvious by the way it felt so real, and how moved I was after it ended.
Don’t let the prospect of a broken heart deter you from reading this amazing book. I don’t know how to convince you that the hurt is so worth it. But it is!!! I had no clue going into this what exactly I was getting myself involved in, but I feel as though my heart is a little big bigger as a result. I feel so much for these characters and the journey it took for them to get where they ended up. Megan Bannen did such a fantastic job in creating this romantic yet tragic masterpiece and I can’t thank her enough for sharing this with the world. If only there could have been a different ending, but then again I don’t think it would have been quite as powerful had it ended any other way. And that being the exact reason that she felt the story of the slave needed to be told. And I agree with her because Jinghua was definitely the hero here. Sometimes its the little stories that end up having the biggest impact.
If You Liked This Book
I think that if you enjoyed reading about Asian culture, with rich setting and background then you should add Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, to your reading pile. Both of these have strong female lead characters who are set to become more than their past. With the vivid settings and history that goes along with both of these stories you can’t help but feel like you are there with the characters and the story takes you away.
Have you ever read something that broke your heart but you loved it so much anyway? What was the last book you read that stuck with you for a long long time after it was over? I’m curious! Let me know in the comments below!