‘The Bird and the Blade’ by Megan Bannen cut me up.
Synopsis: As a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: including her freedom… until the kingdom is conquered by enemy forces and she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father across the vast Mongol Empire. On the run, 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.
So I didn’t know that this was a retelling until after I had read the book, and I also didn’t know that the story is an operatic one. And considering this opera was written nearly a 100 years ago, it’s a feminist tale. This retelling is set in Asia and I enjoyed the culture of all the characters. However, there was again a lot of religious conservation and thoughts which I tended to skim over but I suspect for the time era of the story, it would have been necessary to have God referenced.
The only truly complex character is Jinghua and that’s largely because we don’t know who she is until the last quarter of the book. Khalaf tries repeatedly to figure out who she is but I like the way that we found out as it deepened those scenes of her family. For a slave, Jinghua is a surprisingly brave and determined individual which is probably what sparks Khalaf’s affections and the khans begrudging approval. I also found her quite funny and I enjoyed the ‘giggling girly’ aspects to her thoughts around Khalaf – it made her more human and reminded me of her age.
There were some lovely relationships and it was interesting to see how they changed/grew into different things throughout the journey. It was heartwarming to see how a slave became almost a daughter figure to an angry, disgraced khan and I balled my eyes out when he forgave her towards the end. I can’t tell you how much appreciated the epilogue or how many tears I shed. Also, some of the expressions used in this book by the characters had me in stitches, they were hilariously vulgar that I would tend to reread the scenes they were in just to come across them again.
I really enjoyed it. Despite the events of the book, it is a romance of the deepest love and it could give Romeo & Juliet a run for its money. I liked the way the story was told through jumping timelines and I did not see the twist at the end coming. In fact, I have a love/hate relationship with the ending because I wanted my characters to have a happy ever after. This book makes me want to see the original opera.
“And wilderness is paradise now.”
I received this in Shelflove Crate’s July ‘Let The Games Begin’ box
You can get it here