I was super excited to read this because there’s not enough queer lit featuring Asian women as the main couple. Not only that it promised a fantasy element which further had me hyped. So when I heard about this book and read the premise, I knew I had to grab a copy and read it. However, right off the bat, I was quickly confused and was put off by the author’s choice to write it the way she did. It starts off in Shizuka’s point of view (The Empress) and from my understanding, it switches back and forth between active an passive voice; which I wasn’t a huge fan of. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but the flow felt off. It comes to the point where she receives a letter, I didn’t think much of it until the letter just goes on and on. Then suddenly it is in Shefali’s point of view, and it is supposed to be read as a letter, but because it isn’t italicized, I’m quickly puzzled by this choice. It takes me a bit to figure out, but this is how the story is told with Shefali writing to Shizuka in letter form. With the occasional switch back to the present. This baffles me because the story then proceeds to go back through their entire childhood up to the point where they are now.
I wanna say like 70 to 80 % of this time Shizuka was right there with her; so I saw no need for Shefali to go back through all this. Yes, there were several exciting and enthralling parts, but it would have translated better if it was told as if it was happening at the moment rather than reading about something that already had happened. The only reason why I rated it two stars instead of one was for background between the character’s mothers. As well as a few parts with Shizuka and Shefali. That aside, in the beginning, it was a hot mess, it was hard to keep up with the honorifics and the world in general. The author drew inspiration from different Asian cultures; however, I don’t feel she did a good job of portraying that. There is no key in the back to explain the honorific system, the world, and there wasn’t a general description of where she drew inspiration and what sources she used.
At first, I was generally moved by their relationship; it was strong and steady. But it’s as I am over half way that there is an unneeded scene; that just cheapens it all. After something significant happens within the story, Shefali runs off and meets up with a courtesan who she feels desire for. While she does not sleep with her, I couldn’t help but feel like this was pointless? With all the pair had been through and to include that in there. It made absolutely no sense to me.
Good job for not cheating, but excuse me? You went through hell and back, and suddenly you’re looking at other women? It just came out of the left field and made no sense to me. If a character flaw was needed, it’s in poor taste to have your character desire someone else. Within the letter, Shefali talks about how Shizuka must have moved on and that she is okay with it. When it switches back to the present, it’s confirmed that Shizuka has, in fact, sought other company out. It put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth but seeing how it was clear that Shefali wasn’t with her; I presumed they broke up. SPOILER ALERT! Towards the end, you find out that they were actually married and still married. With the author being queer, I don’t see why she chose a timeless trope; that literally a lot of people within the queer community are trying to change within media.
Later on because of something that Shefali does gets her exiled and she isn’t allowed to return until she brings back a phoenix feather. While Shefali didn’t wish that life on Shizuka; I am very puzzled as to why the latter didn’t go with her. After all, they had gone through, and all that Shefali did for Shizuka she wasn’t willing to go with her. Here’s the other kicker that puzzles me that after she assumes the throne; Shizuka doesn’t void the exile. Clearly, she has the power to overrule that and she just doesn’t? This had the makings of a really good book, but after reading all that I did it fell very flat for me.