- Published in 2020 by Tor.com
- Format: Audiobook
- Narrator: Cindy Kay
- Listening Speed: 1x
- Listening Time: 1 entrancing day
- Embarrassed that it took me this long to get to this one and that I only remembered it was on my TBR when I was looking for something to fulfil the ‘set outside the UK/US’ prompt of the LGBTQ month. This short novella is set in a fantasy world based on Imperial China and tells the story of Rabbit, a handmaiden sold into a lifetime of service, and her relationship with the lonely princess, In-yo, who was sent from her far northern homeland to a political marriage that, in the end, offered her nothing but a gilded cage and few true allies.
- Liked In-yo a lot. It’s easy to admire how she managed to play the powerful men around her and run rings round them without anyone suspecting a thing. She’s also a flawed character who had to sacrifice, compromise and even deceive the kingdom to achieve her ends. Rabbit, her handmaiden and lover, and the other characters each had their own charms but In-yo, for me, was the one who stood out.
- Easy to get a bit lost in the story and not to notice when something important has happened if you’re not giving the book your full attention. It can certainly get a bit ‘literary’ at times (in a good way – there are lots of golden quotes) and I found myself losing the thread of the story a few times. That’s the only reason I’m not giving it full marks. I even had to start the book over from the beginning after my first attempt because I ended up losing the thread of the story about fifteen minutes in. Maybe, it would have been better in print but I enjoyed the narration nevertheless. The style is beautiful and it’s the sort of book that I could see myself re-reading it to pick up on all the things I missed. I don’t doubt that I missed a lot of subtle gems.
- Gave the story in the form of anecdotes from an aged Rabbit told to Chih, a genderfluid cleric from the Singing Hills who has devoted her life to travelling the country and collecting stories not just from the great figures in history but also smaller, ordinary folk whose contribution is no less meaningful to posterity. The framing device felt a little strange at first. Framing devices can very often feel forced. In this case, however, I think it was a good way to tell the story and fitted with the story’s theme of how history can be manipulated by the victors.
- A vividly created world based on Imperial China where traditions and utter loyalty to the monarchy are strictly adhered to and where intrigue is always the order of the day. As is keeping ‘accessory wives’, sending wives to a gilded prison once they’ve fulfilled their duty of producing an heir and keeping them under full surveillance. Magic exists in this world too but it doesn’t seem that mages have all that much political power. That said, the magic hinted at is fascinating and it feels like we’re only getting a brief glimpse at a rich, fully-realised fantasy world. Everything in this world is full of meaning from a broken broom handle to a stray feather and could easily fill a whole series of novels.
- Nice take on the coup storyline that ended a good note of moral grey and with a bittersweet aftertaste at the ending. It certainly delivered on the great amount of build-up.
- Terrific short read that left me with plenty to think about and wanting more. I would whole-heartedly recommend picking this up. It may be a little hardgoing at times but stick with it and I promise you won’t regret it.
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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