Review: Jade Fire Gold by June CL

In an empire on the brink of war . . .

Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her lethal magical abilities.

But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Girls of Paper and Fire meets A Song of Wraiths and Ruin in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, where ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, rich magic, and a captivating slow-burn romance collide.

Jade Fire Gold unfolds through the dual narration of Ahn, a village girl struggling to make ends meet and care for her sick grandmother, and Altan, a boy seeking revenge for the murder of his family whilst struggling with his subsequent guilt and grief. When Altan and Ahn’s paths cross, their fates intertwined, they team up to find a powerful sword that is prophesied to cure the land of the desert plague caused by dark magic centuries ago.

This was an enjoyable debut showcasing a world full of imperial politics, dark magic, legends and adventure. I’m tempted to call it the much tamer (YA, naturally) younger sibling of an earlier 2021 release; She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.

I really liked the alternating perspectives, as it was endearing to explore each mindset on any given plot event and it helped explore more of the world and other characters through their respective lenses.

We follow Ahn’s journey of exploring where she originates from and attempts to learn more of and master her magic. Then there’s Altan, who knows how to wield his magic and seeks every advantage he can get in his mission to bring those who killed his family to his mercy. I found it more difficult to connect to Ahn than I did Altan, as I felt his tragedy and personality were illustrated really well, whereas I can’t say I had the same level of care for Ahn. I found side characters like Altan’s companion Tang Wei and the soon-to-be Emperor Tai Shun more interesting, both of whom have their own family histories and tragedies to contend with as well. Tai Shun was probably my favourite character as he delivered the comedy and the irresistible pining for his boyfriend-but-not-his-boyfriend, Lieutenant Leiye.

My main challenge with this book was its smoothness. The plot development wasn’t smooth, the romance wasn’t smooth, the likes of Ahn’s arc wasn’t smooth… all of which made it hard to read without wincing a little by how all very sudden, random or rushed certain parts were. It almost felt like pages or chapters of development were missing. One minute the characters were tentative allies then softening and then in full blown love.

This wasn’t helped by the use of time jumps, which contributed to me feeling like I’d watched episode 1, and then tuned into episode 4, having missed the time period in between. It was confusing and left me a little lost. But the time jumps were also at times for the better; they were excellent for plot progression of taking the story to adventurous levels, by travelling across the lands and learning more of Tan’s world.

My favourite parts of the book were the world building and magic system. I loved the imperial family politics of quarrelling for power, the magic hating priesthood who slaughtered those like Ahn and Altan and also the history of overthrowing the reigning Emperor. It really was the most enjoyable elements. Then there was the qì life force and wŭxíng magic, combined with the legend of the sword that would end the desert plague, all of which Tan illustrated vividly and had me turning page after page. Oh and there’s a phoenix and a dragon, enough said!

I LOVED the ending! The author sets a sequel up rather nicely in the book’s epilogue and I’m curious over what it promises. You can read this as a stand-alone, so long as you don’t read the epilogue (but where’s the fun in that?)

All in all, admittedly I feel the story’s potential to delve deeper with its characters wasn’t fully realised and needed better pacing. Nonetheless Jade Fire Gold is an exciting debut with a lively story packed with action and well crafted world building. With a promising horizon by the epilogue’s doing. I’ll keep an eye out for updates on the sequel!

Thank you kindly to Hodder & Stoughton, @readeatretreat and Netgalley for an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.

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