I had seen the cover of Strike the Zither by Joan He for so long that I didn't realize it hadn't actually been released yet when I stumbled across it on NetGalley. I was super excited to get an advanced copy through NetGalley and Macmillan (even though my insane schedule kept me from reading it for awhile) and now I'm ready to give my honest review.
This novel is a reimagining/retelling of the Chinese classic Three Kingdoms. Our story follows Zephyr, a brilliant strategist who was orphaned at a young age, as she assists warlordess Ren in defeating the prime ministress Miasma who claims to be protecting the empire (while really just trying to keep control for herself). Alongside Ren's swornsisters Lotus and Cloud, Zephyr must help Ren navigate both war and politics.
Even as a member of the Chinese diaspora in America, I had actually never heard the tale of Three Kingdoms and, I'll be very honest, I wanted to read this book strictly because of the cover. The artwork is stunning and immediately drew me in. In addition to the gorgeous cover, I was also pleasantly surprised by a beautiful map and actual character art the beginning of the book before we even get into the story. I cannot stress how much I loved this little bonus and I wish all books would do this.
The story itself had me entranced from the get go. Our protagonist, Zephyr, comes off as a bit arrogant and uncaring, but it somehow wasn't off-putting and I did genuinely like her. The majority of the main cast are women and they are all strong women in their own right. Each character has a distinct personality that made clear what the motivation was behind each action they took. Their relationships to each other (and specifically to Zephyr) were fleshed out in a way that was kind of surprising considering how many there were? I can't really explain it properly, but I absolutely adored all the characters (even the bad guys!) and loved their interactions with each other.
This is the first novel that I've read of Joan's and I am already a huge fan. There were a few surprise twists that I didn't see coming at all (truly, not even a hint - I attribute this to her excellent writing, but it could also be because I'm dumb, read for yourself and find out!) and I adore being constantly surprised when reading a book. Each of the surprises also made sense for the story and didn't feel like they were forced in just to get a surprised reaction from the reader. I am anxiously awaiting the next volume in this continuing story!
Strike the Zither is available now wherever you get your books.