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Book Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Yeay for more representation of Asian fantasy in western bookstores! Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim has a gorgeous cover which winks at me every time I walk into Periplus. Irresistible.

Expectations Check

I think the cover got me too excited though, because I started Six Crimson Cranes with too high expectations. The writing is poetic, fairy tale like, and quite enjoyable. However I couldn’t connect with the main character Princess Shiori, nor any of the other characters except maybe Raikama. She is the stepmother who fondly takes me back to memories of Pai Su Chen the White Snake! Princess Shiori, on the other hand, falls flat, although to her credit she got more interesting towards the end.

Plot (MILD SPOILERS!)

The middle section is draggy for me, and rather repetitive. The plot twist at the end is very much appreciated because if not Six Crimson Cranes would have been nothing new. Another story we’ve all heard before. Granted the tale might be new to a western reader, but as someone who grew up watching Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian dramas, well…let’s just say there’s not enough of a hook.

Arranged Marriage Trope

Maybe I just can’t find it in me to appreciate arranged marriage tropes, which is the crux of the whole book. Princess Shiori is to marry a lower lord, and she despises him (whom she’s never met). Then when she actually gets to know the said Lord Takkan, and Shiori (of course) falls in love.

I suppose it sounds romantic for someone (perhaps from a non Asian culture) who hasn’t actually ever been forced into a setup. But for someone who’s gone through that whole process: sorry, I gotta say I hate the trope. Not to mention I am of the belief that marriage itself is an institution that is outdated (it has its roots in women as property) and well I’m just gonna rail off so let’s stop here.

All in all, if you ask me what I didn’t like about this book, it has nothing to do with the writing, and more to do with the fact that I just don’t like the story because of personal taste and experiences. If I do read the sequel, it will be because I’m interested in Eastern Dragons and would really like to see how the author fleshes out the dragon court. (Yes, I wished this book was more about Seryu than Shiori.)

If you like a good female power (feminist!) Asian vibe fantasy, do try She Who Became the Sun, or Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua.

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Movie Review: Turning Red

My hubby thinks I’m so weird for bawling my eyes out over this “cute panda” movie. Turning Red hits home for Asian girls though, and YOU ALL KNOW IT! Krisandryka from The Mad Tea Book Club first recommended this to me so here I am sniffing my snot.

Themes in Turning Red

The “tiger mom” culture. The pressure to continue a line of tradition which you don’t really understand fully. The constant demand of having to behave well. Those themes are all explored in this animation. But when our protagonist, 13 year-old Meilin activates the family curse and turns into a “monstrous” red panda, how is she supposed to behave? Herein is the main message of the animation: that you CAN be ugly. You CAN get angry, let your emotions out. In fact, if you try to always bottle it in, there can be disastrous effects. Like what we see with Meilin’s mother. Y’all, I’m just so glad themes like these are being brought up into popular culture. Finally.

Cringe Factor

There is definitely a lot of cringe factor (like their craze over boybands) but I think it’s special in that way! So few movies raise up this unabashed feminine side. How does a teenage girl go through puberty? In that way Turning Red is courageously controversial! I honestly think that teenage girls are the smartest representatives of humankind. Because of that, society cracks down during that crucial period and tries to conform girls into “the way women should be”.

Menstruation

This topic can be a whole NOVEL but let me try to condense a bit here. Raised up as a conservative Christian, it’s been pounded into me from the sacred book that a woman is dirty when she is in her period. Great, thanks. Add to this the social stigma of not being able to talk openly about my periods, how to deal with it, what to do when it really hurts, when I’m PMSing, and we have ourselves a continued rejection of the very way our body works. What a sad twist on how amazing our reproduction cycle is. And yet women are also baby machines. The irony is complete.

That’s why I think Turning Red is controversial but also so important for teenage girls to watch: so we know our cycles are to be celebrated, not to be hidden away in shame. Another similarly empowering movie for teenage girls is Netflix Enola Holmes.

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Book Review: Land of Sand and Song

I came across this book on Jacq’s bookstagram account and have since been really curious about it. I wasn’t let down! I’m always looking for good fantasy, especially good Eastern fantasy written by Asians. Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua satisfied that thirst beautifully.

Joyce Chua’s writing style reminds me of fairytale storytellers such as Marissa Meyer and Shannon Hale – that poetic undercurrent explicit during descriptions. It’s a style I enjoy because I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings. Plot-wise Land of Sand and Song is a bit on the predictable end but I don’t mind because most fairy tale story vibes are like that. Having said so, I didn’t expect there to be a love triangle between the protagonist Desert Rose and the two princes so hey that was a little yummy bonus!

Another thing I liked about this book was the strong women characters. Desert Rose is pretty kick-ass and can hold herself up in any situation. The organization she is a part of is an organization of women assassins: of course, I’m gonna love it.

I think anyone who is into Eastern fantasy, Asian myths, and strong women characters would enjoy this read. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel! Another Asian (historical) fantasy I would recommend is She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.

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Book Review: She Who Became the Sun

I loved everything about She Who Became the Sun, happy sigh. And General Ouyang? I get that he’s a eunuch and he doesn’t swing my direction, but I’m still swooning over him. Okay, so what’s this book about?

Historical Fantasy

She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy retelling of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty, expelled the Mongols, and unified China. The topic is already something I’m incredibly interested in – China’s deliciously dramatic history. Add to that the twist of Zhu being a girl? Automatic read. It does have Mulan vibes but it’s much more – think Mulan slash Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones.

Shelley Parker-Chan‘s writing is gripping from the very first sentence to the very end. One thing I especially like are her analogies – Zhongli village lying in the heat of the sun like a dead dog? Amazing. The book has many such sentences like this, which brings the atmosphere of ancient China alive for me. They way she retells and brings alive the characters: the to-be Empress Ma, General Ouyang, and of course Zhu makes these historical figures into people I won’t forget.

Women Empowerment

Exactly as the title promises, the empowerment narrative is good. As someone with Chinese heritage, I feel Shelley gets the idea so well that it hits home. Girls in the Chinese culture were just so itemized, so unimportant, so…nothing compared to boys. Boys are everything. Girls are meaningless, expendable. I lived this growing up. So I loved that in this fantasy, at least, we can show that we are not meaningless.

Women too can have mandates of heaven, lead armies, and leave a legacy of our names.

If you’re into women empowerment fantasy, check out my Nishaverse series.