Me: One day, I aspire to write a book this well.
Sister: That’s nice.
Me: *throws book at couch* *to book* How dare you!? Stay there and think about what you’ve done!
Sis: *jumps* Oh…
2018 has been a good year for YA books, from A Conspiracy of Stars to A Thousand Perfect Notes. After recently reading a bunch of 3-star books, I was starting to wonder if I’d find another good one again. Then I did.
As I was scrambling to find a book to review for this month, I picked up The Bird and the Blade from my TBR shelf. Not to be confused with my TBR list. I actually have a shelf of five-to-ten books I plan to read next whereas my list is just a concept. Actually, my shelf has spilled onto another shelf and I need more hours in the day to read. Seriously, where did all my reading time go?
Book: The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
My rating: 5/5 stars
Awards: None (yet!)
Year published: 2018
One-word description: quest
“The only reason Timur Kahn isn’t dead is because he is ludicrously lucky. The only reason Khalaf isn’t dead is because he is brave beyond measure. And the only reason I’m not dead is because I was singing in a tree like an idiot.”
In a world ruled by men comes a tale of two women who destroy everything. Okay, so that’s not exactly how it happens, but it’s pretty close. The Bird and the Blade is a tale about family and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, love and respect. Oh, yeah, and blood. Lots of blood. From the Song Empire (China) to Il-Khanate (part of the Mongol Empire), the majority of the story is a journey across Asia.
I particularly liked the main characters, Jinghua, Khalaf, and yes, even the obnoxious Timur. I especially liked the way the relationships developed, especially how Khalaf respected everybody from slaves to rulers, which played into one of the overarching themes—what does it mean to love and respect a person? And though I’m not usually a fan of romance, I totally ship Jinghua and Khalaf.
I also enjoyed the riddles, though I was only able to correctly guess one, but to be fair, that answer was given to the readers.
Every now and then a plot twist would creep up that I was able to predict oh, maybe five paragraphs before it happened. Then another twist would hit me like a bus. Suffice to stay the story was told from a first-person unreliable narrator with a nonlinear narrative. At first, I found the nonlinear part killed some of the suspense, but in the end, it all made sense.
Then there was the moment when the title finally made sense. I particularly like the way Jinghua earned her title as “the little bird”—because she likes to sing even though her mother tried to teach her that it wasn’t ladylike. From my twenty-first century perspective, that view doesn’t make much sense, but I like the songs and the way the book included poetry and intellectual and heartfelt discussions. That and the story was based off an Italian opera, Turandot.
There were times when I wondered why the story was told from Jinghua’s perspective. I mean, I enjoyed her storytelling, but at times it seemed like she was just along for the ride. As the story progressed, though, she took on a much more active role, which I appreciate.
In all, I gave The Bird and the Blade 5/5 stars for excellent storytelling and character development. I’d recommend the book to readers of YA fantasy and historical fiction. I look forward to seeing what the author Megan Bannen has to write next!
Interested in The Bird and the Blade? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan (see book review), and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
Let’s chat! Has The Bird and the Blade made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any historical fiction or YA recommendations?