Mingshin used her brains to get Ren, the man she loved, onto the throne, only to find herself lying in a pool of her own blood due to his betrayal. Heartbroken and dying, she makes a desperate plea to the gods to give her another chance. The next thing she knows, she wakes up and it is two years earlier. Mingshin makes two promises to herself: Ren will never become king and she will never fall in love again. But as she utilizes all the knowledge she has from her first go around, the timeline starts changing and she has to adapt by allying herself with Jieh, another contender for the throne…and possibly her heart.

The way this story read just like the Chinese dramas I would watch as a kid had me absolutely entranced. It opens right at the end of Mingshin’s first life which I thought was an excellent choice considering the fact that we know from the copy that Ren betrays and kills her. To have to have watched any of their interaction before the betrayal would have felt like a lot of “hurry up and wait” that would have been unnecessary. Instead, we are immediately thrown into Mingshin’s second life and thrown just as off balance as she is.

This story had simple world building that was easy to follow while also being filled with court intrigue that left me guessing. Not only that, but Chenli also plays with the love triangle trope in a different way than it is normally portrayed and incorporates the concept of the butterfly effect with each new decision that Mingshin makes in her second life. The differences between her first life and her second life are drastic and play a huge part in making sure that the story is paced properly.

One of my favorite parts of the story is something that I always love in my fantasy reads—the found family. While Mingshin is just trying to make sure that things will not end up the same way they did the first time around, she finds herself a beautiful group of people that would fight for and with her and are fiercely loyal. It’s both incredibly heartwarming and heartbreaking at different times and tugs on all the heartstrings.

A BRIGHT HEART is Kate Chenli’s dazzling debut and the first in what I’m sure will be a brilliant fantasy series. You can pick up your copy here while we await news of the sequel.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."