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Book: “And Break the Pretty Kings” by Lena Jeong
Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!https://amzn.to/41hV4dc
Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat.org | Amazon | IndieBound
Book Description: A crown princess. A monster the gods fear. A destiny no one can outrun. Inspired by Korean history and myths, the first book in the Sacred Bone series is a rich and evocative high-stakes fantasy that is perfect for fans of Gallant and Six Crimson Cranes . Mirae was meant to save her queendom, but the ceremony before her coronation ends in terror and death, unlocking a strange new power within her and foretelling the return of a monster even the gods fear. Amid the chaos, Mirae’s beloved older brother is taken—threatening the peninsula’s already tenuous truce. Desperate to save her brother and defeat this ancient enemy before the queendom is beset by war, Mirae sets out on a journey with an unlikely group of companions while her unpredictable magic gives her terrifying visions of a future she must stop at any cost.
Review: Another awesome, dramatic cover! I love bright colors and the overall theme; I feel like I knew exactly the sort of book I was picking up with once glance at this cover. I was also drawn in by the intriguing description and the mention that it was inspired by the historical time period of the three kingdoms of Korea, a time and place I know very little about. I’ve loved how many fantasy novels recently have pulled in Asian folklore and mythology, greatly diversifying a SFF landscape that has re-told a small selection of fables ad nauseum.
Just a note before we start, I’m going to rework my review style so that it matches what Kate has been doing more closely. Obviously, we each have our own distinct tones, but I’ve been writing my own summary of the book here in the second paragraph, and I’m now going to forego doing this. The summary is always included, and I did this more out of habit from my old review style before I was working in a blog format that already includes a summary. More and more often I find that I am spending too much time trying to find ways to re-word information that can be found directly above. So, like Kate, I’m now just going to dive straight into the reviews themselves!
So, this book was a strange read for me. It was definitely a case where I felt like there was potential around every corner. But then it never quite reached the highs I was hoping for. One thing that is unquestionable, however, is that this is a fast-moving romp of a story. The story gets off to a fairly quick start and never really lets up. But, on the other hand, due to the fast pace of the plotting, I never felt like we really settled into any of these character, either our main character or the side cast. Mirae had a potentially interesting arc where she is forced to confront that her unwillingness to compromise can be both a strength, but also a weakness. But I don’t think the story every really settled enough for her to really express any of this growth. Instead, the reader is left to just bounce along and understand that inner reflection is happening.
There was also no romance in this story. I personally prefer to have a romantic plotline in my story (though I have to say, I’ve now read three other books back to back where the romance ended in some form of tragedy, and I’m SUPER over this tendency to need to make these stories bittersweet or grimdark to somehow justify them as “serious fantasy.” Ok, rant over.), but there have been plenty of stories I’ve really enjoyed without a hint of romance to be found. Just recently, I rated “Witch King” a 10 and there’s zero romance in that book. But here it was confusing because fairly early on the author seems to be setting up a romantic plotline. And then…it just goes nowhere. It kind of felt like a bait and switch and left me more frustrated than had there been nothing even hinted at.
I also really liked the idea of the time-switching, but I don’t feel like it was really used to the extent that it was hyped. The world-building also felt a bit all over the place, and the motivations, both for why these countries were at war, and why individual characters choose to do certain things, were lacking. I am curious to see if there is a second book planned and whether that would clarify some of this. Particularly, the strange non-love/love interest. Like, is this something that is going to be followed up on later? Overall, this was a bit hit and miss for me as a read. Like I said, I think there is a lot of potential here, and I do think that some fantasy readers will enjoy it. But it’s not as tightly knit or carefully constructed as I would prefer.
Rating 7: Lots of potential that did feel a bit squandered by a lack of attention to character and world-building.
“And Break the Pretty Kings” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Asian Mythology, Legends, and Folklore .