Song of the Crimson Flower

Song of the Crimson Flower

by Julie C. Dao


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From the acclaimed author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns comes a fantastical new tale of darkness and love, in which magical bonds are stronger than blood.

Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician's apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman's daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao's prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.

Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest's Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that's been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?

In this fantastical tale of darkness and love, some magical bonds are stronger than blood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524738358
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 81,165
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Julie Dao ( is a proud Vietnamese American who was born in Upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. She is the author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The music came in on the breeze.

Lan rushed to the window, the sleeves of her pale-yellow robe fluttering like butterfly wings. “He’s here! Quick, put out the light!”

Her maid blew out the candles, plunging the bedroom into darkness, and Lan saw outside with a sudden sharp clarity: the great oaks sheltering the Vu family home, bending close together as though sharing a secret; the sunset-pink blossoms in the garden that smelled of summertime; and the grassy hill sloping down to the river two levels beneath her window. The warm breeze ran playful fingers through her long hair as she leaned out.

“Be careful, miss!” Chau begged. “What will I tell your parents if you fall?”

Lan brushed away the maid’s hands. “I’ve never fallen yet, have I? Hush, now.”

A boat glided over the water and stopped near the riverbank. In the moonlight, Lan could only see a sliver of the young man’s face, turned up toward her, and the shine of his bamboo flute. Tam, she thought, her mind caressing his beloved name. Her heart soared as he began to play, every sweet note ringing out as clearly as though he were in her room with her.

The music seemed a living, breathing thing. It whispered to her and danced in the air before her. The notes clung to her skin and the back of her throat. Lan pressed her hands against her flushed cheeks, thrilling at the beauty of it. Tam had come every night for two weeks and had played this song each time—her song, the melody he had written for her. He had tucked the lyrics into the hollow of their favorite tree, and she had learned them by heart:

Little yellow flower,
You crossed the grass and the wind kissed every blade
Your feet had blessed.
I see springtime in the garden of your eyes.

The flute sang for her, and her alone. It was his voice, telling her in music what he had always been too shy to say in words: that he loved her, that he couldn’t wait to spend his life with her, that both their families’ dearest hope was also his own. When he finished, he gazed up and lifted his hand to her, and Lan noticed the soft blue scarf tied around his wrist. She had given it to him along with a ruby dragonfly brooch, the heart-jewel a woman presented to her true love.

Chau, well versed in the routine by now, handed Lan several bundles of hoa mai. Lan kissed the sweet-smelling yellow flowers before tossing them to Tam. Most of them scattered on the surface of the water, but it was no matter. She knew he would gather each and every one, for she had watched him do it for fourteen nights. As she watched, he stooped to pluck a blossom from the river and kissed the petals her lips had touched.

The maid sighed. “How lucky you are to have such a beautiful romance, miss.”

“I am,” Lan said softly, stretching her hand to the boatman. She felt like a princess in the ancient ballads her father loved, with stars in her unbound hair. But the girls in those tales were always falling in love with men far beneath them. Tam was of a family equal to Lan’s, and the prospect of their marriage was as close to their approving parents’ hearts as it was to their own. “He’s perfect, isn’t he?”

If only he would find his courage. If only he would get past the shyness that forced him to express his feelings only in moonlit visits. In the two weeks since he started playing her music on the river, he had not come by once during the day. He’s busy learning how to become a great court minister like his uncle, she told herself sternly. It’s silly to complain when he is building a good life for us. Tam was devoted to her, and when the time was right, he would finally allow the fortune-teller to choose an auspicious date for their wedding. In the meantime, she would try to learn patience and understanding, two of her mother’s strongest qualities.

As though Lan’s thoughts had called her, Lady Vu’s footsteps sounded in the corridor. “Why is it so dark in here?” she asked, entering her daughter’s room. Two servants flanked her, their lanterns illuminating the crisp turquoise silk of her long, gold-collared ao dai. The overdress fluttered against her cream trousers. “What on earth are you looking at?”

Lan jumped back from the window. “Nothing, Mama. Just stargazing.” She didn’t have to fib; her parents approved of her betrothal to Tam, after all, and there was nothing improper about these visits. But she was nearly eighteen, and Ba and Mama allowed her so few secrets from them; she wanted these nights of moonlight and music to belong to her and Tam alone. “I was thinking about Tam and how hard he works.”

“Of course you were, my love,” Lady Vu said, her face softening. “I am certain your wedding will take place soon. You needn’t worry.”

“I’m not worried,” Lan answered, but it sounded forced even to her ears.

Her mother signaled for the servants to relight the candles, and the room in which Lan had grown up came back into view: the bright oak walls, the yellow-and-white embroidered rug, and the cheerful gold silk pillows on the bed. Lady Vu patted a lacquered sandalwood chair. “Sit. I will brush your hair,” she said, and the servants left the room to allow mother and daughter their nightly chat. She ran the teeth of the ivory comb tenderly through Lan’s hair. “You’ll be a happy wife and mother, like me. You have nothing to fear from your Tam.”

“I know he cares for me, Mama.” Lan fixed her eyes on the night sky, imagining Tam gathering flowers on the river outside and watching the square of light from her room. “I’m just eager for a wedding date to be chosen. If there’s a task to be done, better to do it right away.”

Lady Vu laughed. “How like your dear father you are in that.”

“And like you in my face,” Lan returned, lifting an ornate bronze hand mirror. Her face and her mother’s looked back at her, both rosy and round with wide noses and wider eyes, dark and shining as the river. Even their dimpled smiles were the same.

Her mother stroked her hair. “Master and Madam Huynh have always spoiled Tam. He’s their only son, which is why they indulge him in everything. Ba and I know better than to give your brothers such freedom. We are their parents, and we know best.” She set the comb down and met Lan’s eyes in the mirror. “Tam may be shy, but his nerves will soon pass.”

“Do you think that’s why he keeps putting off the fortune-teller?” Lan asked, turning to look at her. “Because he’s nervous about marrying me?”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with you, my treasure.” Lady Vu laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Some men are still children at twenty, and Tam may be feeling anxious about the responsibilities he will take on as a husband and head of a household.”

“Was Ba anxious?”

The older woman smiled. “No. But he has always been a decisive person.”

“He left flowers for you every day after you were betrothed,” Lan said, remembering Ba’s story. It was both funny and sweet to imagine her proper, formal father as a youth in love.

“Your father and I were well matched from the start. Sharing my life with him has been a joy, and I want that happiness for you,” Lady Vu said, squeezing Lan’s shoulder. “Ba will speak to the Huynhs and see if they can’t push Tam a bit. It’s long past time to choose a wedding date.”

Three dates had been proposed by the fortune-teller and all refused by Tam. The first had landed in the middle of the rain season, which he insisted was not a propitious time to marry. The next had fallen too close to the Festival of the New Year, which might have symbolized a fresh beginning, but Tam had insisted it would be disrespectful to the gods to celebrate a marriage instead of spending time in reflection and prayer. And the third date—for which both the Huynhs and Vus had pushed—had been in the winter, and Tam did not wish his bride to be cold and uncomfortable in the journey to her new home. No matter that the Huynhs lived only on the other side of the river, no more than a half hour’s journey by palanquin.

Lan had been disappointed each time, but had excused these concerns as proof of Tam’s thoughtful, conscientious nature. “He’s superstitious, and also cautious,” she told her mother now. “Our marriage will be the most important event of his life, and he wants it to be perfect.”

“Of course he does. Ba will speak to Tam’s parents, and by year’s end, you will be a bride.” Lady Vu dimpled. “Just think of the finery you’ll wear and how beautiful you’ll look. The first of your cousins to marry, even though you’re the youngest. How jealous they will be.”

Lan beamed, picturing herself in her festive red wedding clothes and gold headdress. “Will you lend me your jade necklace, Mama?”

“Better than that. I will give it to you as a gift,” her mother said indulgently. “And we will have Bà Trang add ten times the gold embroidery to your wedding clothes. They’ll be so much prettier than the hideous silks Bà Danh’s great-niece wore at her wedding.” They giggled at the great-niece’s expense and sat up late together, gossiping and planning for the future.

When Lady Vu finally retired for the night, Lan gazed out at the star-dappled river, now empty of her passionate boatman. As a child, she had sat by this window with her grandmother, making up wild stories about all the adventures she would have as a bold, brave young woman. Bà nội had loved tales of daring quests and far-off lands and had transferred her passion to Lan, encouraging her to dream and imagine herself as strong and courageous as anyone in the old legends. But Bà nội had died last summer, leaving an empty place in Lan’s heart where her grandmother’s love and her thirst for adventure had once been.

It made Lan feel lonesome and a little sad, wondering when she had changed so much. But she supposed that letting go of her flights of fancy and her desire to see the world came with growing up. And getting married will be an adventure, too, she told herself.

The pieces of her life were falling perfectly into place. Soon, she would make Ba and Mama proud, and she would have everything: a lovely, elegant wing of the Huynhs’ home, servants to tend to her every wish as a cherished daughter-in-law, and Tam, the handsome young man who wove his love for her into the melody of a flute beneath the moon.

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Song of the Crimson Flower 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
ruthsic 4 days ago
Song of the Crimson Flower is a simple and beautiful story about two characters who start from a place of opposition and grow to love each other, against a background of a land in turmoil over a spreading threat. Bao, an orphan and a physician's apprentice, has been in love in Lan, a highborn girl for a long time; when it is discovered that she has been duped by her fiance with his help, she is infuriated and rejects his love coldly and throws the difference in their status in his face. Despondent, he goes to a river witch to get rid of his memories of her, but instead ends up being cursed because of his mother's deeds, so that his soul will reside in his flute unless he gets someone to proclaim love him. Lan, feeling guilty over how she hurt him, agrees to help him search for his mother in the Gray City so that the curse might be broken. Their journey takes them through their kingdom, crossing paths with some characters we know well from the Rise of the Empress duology (it is not essential to read that series before this, but it is recommended), and a rising epidemic that has Ebola-like symptoms but is claimed to be cured by a banned drug called black anise. Bao's parentage becomes obvious early on, so the question is how he will react to finding his family at last but having a ideology opposed to theirs. The antagonist themselves are created well - they truly believe they can help the world, and are ready to pay any cost for it. The romance is slow-burning, and feels so right. Unrequited love is tricky to pull off so fast, but Dao makes it work so well. They each have much more to learn about the other, and on this journey where they are free from the binds of their societal status, they can truly see each other. And even then, the romance doesn't overwhelm the story: they still have a city to reach and a curse to break, then a war to prevent, but their relationship grows through and alongside these arcs. Overall, it is a different book from the Rise of the Empress duology, sure, but it is impactful in its own quiet way.
Anonymous 4 days ago
You guys, this book was so amazing! I wish I hadn’t been at the tail end of a slump while reading it because this could honestly be one of my favorite reads of the year! If you are a fan of historical c/kdramas, then you should read this book! It hit me right in the historical asian inspired feels. Full review on my blog:
jjyy 7 days ago
The Song of the Crimson Flower is based on folklore set in the world of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, one of my favorite fantasy novels. This story follows Bao and Lan as they seek out a witch who has placed a curse on Bao, which Lan becomes drawn into. Although this is a story about love, the love is not limited to romantic love. Also, there is political intrigue and magic woven into the tale. Although it was nice to be back in the world of FOTL, I think that the writing/voice/characters felt too similar to FOTL for me to experience the joy of diving into a new story that I look forward to most with YA fantasies that I read and enjoy. But despite this, this is a lush fantasy with a setting that is not the usual/common in YA fantasy and I do appreciate that! It was well-written, which is something you can always expect from Julie Dao, and I will probably read anything she writes!
ShesGoingBookCrazy 8 days ago
I received a copy of this book via BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! In no way does this affect my rating or review. Song of the Crimson Flower is a beautiful young love story between a boy who had no home and a girl born into high status. The interaction between Bao and Lan's character mimics a slowly progressing dance. Some bumps and awkwardness occur in the beginning. Sometimes, it’s even crude. But, the end result is something beautiful. Bao, an orphan, and understudy to the local physician, has loved Lan for as long as he's known her. But with her being high-born, and already betrothed, he has little chance at ending up with her. When a scandal is uncovered, any ties between Bao and Lan are cut. Heartbroken, Bao seeks the aid of a witch and local legend. Upon finding her, Bao is cursed for reasons unbenounced to him, and he is forced to set off on a quest to find the witch again to remove the curse. Along the way, Bao makes an unlikely ally, friend...and possibly something even more than that. She helps him deal with the curse set upon him, his anxiety, and uncovering more about his history. While the writing throughout held a simplistic quality, it was for this reason that I found this author’s voice so refreshing. This writing style, in comparison to the majority of Young Adult novels out there, offers something unique. It allows the reader to pick up on little details that aren’t so pivotal, but they still do matter. I really enjoyed the perspectives that the characters offered, and understanding some of the simplicities throughout the plot. The culprit of the plot shows up in a few ways. The main, is a substance called “black spice,” a drug derived from an engineered Poppy flower, causing major turmoil throughout the five kingdoms. Highly addictive, it was outlawed by most of the kingdoms, except for the Gray City. For years, the Gray City has undermined the wishes of the other kingdoms, and have continued circulating the spice. Additionally, an incurable illness called “Bloodpox” has swept over the nation. This fatal, and highly contagious disease, has killed many people, and everyone is seeking a cure. The next antagonist is a legendary “river witch” that places a curse on Bao after he seeks out her aid to forget the one he loves but doesn’t return that love. After the curse, he tries to find the witch to have her break the spell, but she is nowhere to be found. There are others as well, but I won’t mention them here for the sake of spoilers. The story is told by alternative point-of-views of Bao and Lan. Bao’s character is quite impactful. As an orphan in this historical setting, he has never known a life of luxury. Passing through several families, he finally ends up being taken in by a physician to become his apprentice. The physician’s wife cares little for Bao, and treats him poorly the entire time he resides with Master Hyunh. He is never able to step away from the reality of his socioeconomic status. This was an easy read, but it also has elements of grit and meatiness. These are eventually seen in the plot twists, and really bring the story full circle. I thought this was a beautiful story, and loved to watch how the characters grew, but also retained the best parts of themselves throughout their transition.
bookishIN 8 days ago
Song of the Crimson Flower is the third book from Julie C. Dao and a companion tale to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. Although you don't need to read those first, spoiler alert: characters from that duology appear in this book, so know that their tale precedes this story, because the author recaps the ending. If you don't want that spoiled for you, read those two books first. Wish I'd known that going in, but I will still go backtrack and read them. Song of the Crimson Flower is the tale of orphan Bao, a physician's apprentice who is secretly in love with Lan, a girl engaged to Tam, the son of the man Bao is apprenticed to. Tam ultimately jilts Lan, she takes her heartbreak out on Bao, and Bao leaves town. Bao is cursed by a river witch and can only be saved by "someone who loves him." He and Lan find themselves thrown together and wind up on a journey to save not only Bao, but also the Kingdom from a disease Bao is sure he can find a cure for. When Bao learns who is ultimately responsible for the disease, he is more determined than ever to put a stop to the spread of the disease. Plenty of adventure, magic and a sweet, blossoming romance to be found in this inspired tale.
Kiira 10 days ago
I’m going to start this review by answering the big question of “can this be read as a standalone?” And the answer is “Yes, but I could feel the references flying over my head.” This book is a really good example of a self-contained story. I was able to get a feel for the characters, setting, and magic, all under 300 pages, which is impressive for a YA fantasy, which are usually 350+ pages. I loved the character arcs Bao and Lan went on throughout this story. There is very clear change in character throughout their journey. Lan was such a different YA protagonist as she really wanted the arranged marriage at the beginning, and Bao was so sweet and kind; I loved both of them. This book does have a wide cast of characters, but there is a directory with pronunciation guides, which was very much appreciated. The romance was phenomenal! It’s a weird, strangers-to-one sided hate-to-friends-to-lovers and I loved it. The ending especially had me flailing, which not every romance does for me. There was a good amount of tension and romance as well as recognition of how their past acts were bad. One review I saw claimed that one of the characters did not apologize for something terrible they did earlier, but that has absolutely been changed and it makes the romance arc much more enjoyable.
hufflepuffilicious_books 11 days ago
Song of the Crimson Flower is a book that is exactly the type of story I love to read, but was lacking in details and relied heavily upon the books in the Rise of the Empress series for character development and world building. I liked the main characters overall. Lan is very kind and courageous, while Bao is intelligent and caring. Yes, Lan has that outburst at Bao at the beginning of the story, but it seemed really out of character for her. Like she had never done such a thing and never would again. It was just a little weird, but also shows that even the kindest people have their breaking points. It also showed that, even though she was kind, Lan was living a very privileged life and needed to get out of the house and see the hardships of the world. I felt so bad for Bao and how he was treated by people who were considered “above his station,” when he is a great physician's apprentice and artistic with his music and poetry. The romance between Lan and Bao was adorable, but nothing spectacular. It makes sense that Lan eventually falls for Bao, because she realized that he was the one making the romantic gestures when she thought it was her betrothed. She’s only mean to Bao the one time, and after that they’re fine with each other. I was annoyed that Bao became “acceptable” to marry at the end of the story because he was now the leader of a great city. I think the romance would have been a lot more meaningful if that hadn’t happened and Lan was like “screw it, I’m marrying him anyway.” I should have read the Rise of the Empress duology, because I felt like I was really missing out on a few things. There were several characters that I assume where from those books, and their development was pretty shallow. In many ways I felt like an outsider looking in. Like, here are these beloved characters from these other books, but the only two characters I ever really got to know were Lan and Bao. I just didn’t really care about the rest of them and just felt like they were thrown in there to make the connection between Song of the Crimson Flower and Rise of the Empress. My favorite part was the pronunciation guide at the front of the book. It helped a lot and I really appreciated it. There should be a rule that all books have character name pronunciations at the front. Overall, I didn’t love the story, but I didn’t hate it. The writing was fine and the story was solid, it was just predictable and could have used more details with some of the background characters.
kmg7777 12 days ago
Things do not go his way when Bao, an orphaned physician's apprentice, professes his love to Lan, a wealthy man's daughter. Spurned and heartbroken, Bao takes to the river looking to restart his life when he's cursed by the river witch. This lands him right back with Lan again and headed towards the Gray City with an army, hoping his birth mother can break the curse. But could Lan break the curse herself? I think most readers can figure out pretty quickly the end result of that part of the story, which unfortunately doesn't seem to have the chemistry I was looking for between the two characters. The rest of the story also gets murky as to it's purpose - is it stopping the ruler of the Gray City? Is it finding a cure for the blood pox ravaging people in the area. Is it eliminating the black spice that is bringing a profit to the Gray City. Is it Lady Yen figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be with? It's almost like there's too many substories going on, and unfortunately none seem to focus on Wren, a female warrior who isn't just strong mentally, but physically as well. This book has potential but it gets too convoluted for me and doesn't always seem to put the emphasis on characters I would rather learn more about.
kittymarie 12 days ago
This book has a vibe that is charming and positive. The short length (under 300 pages) and rather fast pace makes this an ideal choice for people who need a break after a large and/or intense read or just want a relaxing reading experience in general. The story presented here is simple but in a classical way, resembling a fairy tale. What drew me to this title initially is the unusual romance, one of the more notably unique aspects of this title. I’ll just go into details that are already presented in the back cover summary and avoid spoilers. The heroine is Lan, a young noblewoman. Her love interest is Bao, an aspiring physician and orphan. Though of two very different social classes, they were childhood friends. As adults, she is in love with another and rejects Bao in anger- granted, she has what I think many will consider good reasons for doing so. Her words are cruel nonetheless and tarnish his idealized image of her. Filled with regret after the fact, she wants to make amends and finds that he’s been cursed by a witch. The two go on a journey to locate the witch and undo the curse. Time is ticking and his soul might otherwise be forever trapped. During their journey, she starts to see him in a new light. Conversely, he tries to close his heart off to her. The nature of their love story is a sort of childhood friends-to-enemies, then enemies-to-lovers setup that I immediately wanted to read about. Both characters grow and change in their perceptions of each other. While I feel the large concept is teeming with the potential for intensity and drama, it’s surprisingly a surprisingly cute and easygoing romance overall. It’s also quite chaste and all-ages friendly, not any problematic aspect that I can recall. Next area I want to cover- the reversal of fairytale stereotypes. I was very pleased to find this in Song of the Crimson Flower. For example, one of the side characters has a nuanced portrayal despite usually being of a type that is treated as uniformly evil in fables/fairytales. Next, rather than a hero saving a heroine, the hero is the one in dire straits with a heroine keen on helping to save him. Moreover, the female characters are on equal footing with the male ones in terms of power, conversation, and a zest for adventure. Aside from undoing Bao’s curse, the characters also find out troubling things about a substance called “black spice” that has been spreading throughout multiple kingdoms and having very negative effects. The spice seems to originate from a place called the Gray Kingdom, a location which lies at the center of breaking Bao’s curse. The setting is historical Vietnam with a touch of magic. The visuals of this world are simple to grasp yet often beautifully described. The magical energy that permeates this land is tangible and the side characters have some worthwhile development and relationships, with bits of back story. That aspect could have been broader, but it’s not bad for the page count. Why You Should Try It – Graceful characterization. Feels like a light and airy fairytale, but reverses stereotypes in a neat way. Well-paced and short (under 300 pages) with what I think would be wide appeal to middle grade, YA, and adult readers. The romance is interesting. The setting is a unique and well-realized, a fantasy-infused historical Vietnam. Lovely writing style. I’m definitely eager to try more books by this author. Note : Received an ARC of this title for the purpose of review.
Anonymous 12 days ago
This is a romance that is set before the 19th century in a fictional Asian setting. You feel bad for both of the main characters, Lan and Bao, in the beginning, but I personally felt more sympathy for Bao. Bao was sweet and caring and didn't deserve what Lan did even if she was upset. I was confused at the beginning with the curse. I have a tendency to read too fast so I had to reread the part when Bao was cursed. After rereading it, I was able to progress through the book. Some things, in the end, seemed a little rushed. Like the battle with the Gray City. I also wanted to know what Lan's parents thought of her decision. And I want to see how Bao controls the Gray City. Overall this book was really interesting and I loved the happy ending.
magicalreads7 12 days ago
4.5 stars **I received an ARC for a blog tour and from a giveaway. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.** I never got around to reading Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, and it’s been a little over two years since I read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. However, you could honestly read this book as a standalone. Song of the Crimson Flower was absolutely stunning, a beautiful tale of the powers of real love. Honestly, just the first page of the glossary had me in tears; reading all these Vietnamese names, ones that my family members have and ones that I encounter often, in a fantasy was so powerful. Thank you, Julie, for writing a gorgeous ownvoices Vietnamese-inspired fantasy! I also loved how this one still feels a bit Western because the intersection of being Vietnamese-American is very much a mix of Vietnamese and Western culture. (Also, side note, I have a master-list of books with Vietnamese protagonists and/or written by Vietnamese authors, if you want to look my blog up; it's this username at wordpress) The plot was enthralling. You can’t help but be pulled into Feng Lu, a world of magic and mischief. Bao and Lan are going on a dangerous adventure to cure Bao of his curse and find his family, even if they shouldn’t be found. There’s an awkwardness between them because they’re connected by the curse, but Lan had just harshly turned Bao down after he professes his love for her. Except, the thing is, Lan really isn’t a bad person; she was caught off guard because she had just found out that the man, who she thought was in love with her, wasn’t. Over the years, she’s built up a fantasy version of him in her head, and Bao has done the same with Lan. Both of them operate of faint imitations of love, infatuation really, because they don’t actually know the person they thought they loved. They grow to realize that the versions of people we create in our heads aren’t necessarily the ones we want and definitely not who these people actually are. This character growth is so amazing; to realize the falsehoods of love when approached by the real thing is such a strong message. Going along with this, the romantic development stole my breath away with the longing of it all. The prose is gorgeous as well! Julie has really grown as an author, and I loved her beautiful and more succinct writing in this book. The prose laid out a soft and gentle tone, one that gives the book a quiet beauty and emphasizes its message of love. Song of the Crimson Flower was a gorgeous read that really shows how you can’t be in love with a person if it’s just the version of them you’ve made in your head. I loved the characters and their arcs, as well as the romance. Even if you haven’t read Dao’s other books, don’t let it stop you from picking Song of the Crimson Flower up as soon as possible!
Anonymous 12 days ago
There is nothing I love more in YA right now than the #OwnVoices movement, and the fact this this is a fairy tale-esque story only makes it better. As someone who was brought up on tales of good, evil and love conquering all, I appreciated this East Asian spin on a somewhat familiar background story. Bao, a young physician’s assistant, is desperately seeking the affection of his long time-crush Lan, but due to his involvement in a less than advisable scheme on behalf of his employer, he ends up heartbroken. Lan herself, after realizing she has been played the fool, is understandably upset and says some really regrettable things to poor Bao. Bao goes off to lick his wounds and ends up being cursed by a witch (something that has happened to all of us, I’m sure). The curse is that he will be trapped in his favorite possession, a bamboo flute, until true love sets him free, because of course that’s where the story is going, it’s a fairy tale after all! The best part for me to read was the journey to how all that plays out. There are a several interesting elements in this novel that intrigued me, most notably the class disparity and the illegal distribution of a drug that is a thinly veiled reference to opium. There is romance as well (naturally) but I enjoyed the honest approach to two people getting to know each other throughout the course of the story, instead of the insta-love that seems to crop out of no where in the typical fairy tale. I enjoyed the character’s growing understanding of what love really means, not just the face value of the emotion. Overall, I think this is a great replacement for the fairy tales of old, and I hope young people will read this and appreciate the cultural elements present here, because I think that is the most interesting story of all.
Anonymous 12 days ago
This fairytale tells the story Lan. She is an aristocrat. The daughter of a wealthy nobleman. Lan is beautiful, generous, and good-hearted. She is visited every night by her lover Tam who plays his flute and reads his poetry under her bedroom window. Lan and Tam are engaged to be married but haven't set a date yet. Lan, frustrated and sad wonders why Tam and his family are procrastinating. If Tam loved her so much why doesn't he set a date? Lan, is then told the bitter truth one afternoon by Bao. Bao is an orphan and works as an physicians apprentice for Tam's father . Bao is in love with Lan. However, he knows that it can never be b/c of thier striking class difference. Lan is heartbroken and takes it out on Bao using his being an orphan as a weapon. Bao runs away and accidently wonders into the lair of an evil witch who curses his soul into his flute. The spell only to be broken by true love. This magnificent story should be read as a lyrical poem. It is dreamlike and beautiful. The characters come to life on page one. You feel as if you've really got to know them at the end of the book. It reminded me of THE PRINCESS BRIDE with its a storybook romance, humor, and storytelling. Lol. I haven't read the other books by this author but I will buy them now. Lol. I received a complimentary copy of this book from BOOKISHFIRST in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous 12 days ago
I liked this book. It wasn't good, but it wasn't great. It was kind of just there. Everything about it was simple. The writing was simple, the characters were simple which is fine but nothing really stood out to me too much. I liked the fairytale aspect and the inclusion of Vietnamese culture. The beginning was a bit slow while the ending was pretty predictable. I just did't find myself connecting or caring about the main characters very much. The side characters were pretty disappointing as well. I liked the romance aspect but not much else about the book really grabbed my attention. This is a quick and easy read for anyone who wants to enjoy a romantic fairytale, I just wish that it had a bit more depth to it.
Kelsey Bickmore 12 days ago
I was so lucky to get an ARC of this book from Bookish First! When I heard that the author was going to be writing another book based in the same world as The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns I couldn't wait for it to be released! I loved that duology and was more than ready to dive back in to that world. This story takes place several years after the Great War in which Empress Xifeng was defeated by Jade who became empress after and concerns mostly the characters of Lan and Bao with several appearances of the previous books' characters. Lan's heart was broken by a love that did not love her and unfortunately she took it out on Bao, causing him to seek out the river witch who ends up cursing. Lan proves herself to be strong though and she and Bao end up traveling to the Gray City for the cure to the curse. There is lots of excitement along the way and as I mentioned before, appearances by such characters as Commander Wei and Wren, and of course Empress Jade. I loved this story as it was well written and I could see the world and feel a part of the adventure. I will gladly read many more books by Julie Dao! She is a great author!
AnneWB 13 days ago
Happy Pub Day!! (also a book review) Before starting this book, I honestly had no idea what it was about besides that it is a fantasy. I started it and was a little confused on what was happening because it was like we just jumped into the middle of someone’s life without much introduction. After a few chapters in it started to give me Beauty and the Beast vibes. Again, I didn’t know anything going into this read so is it actually a Beauty and the Beast retelling? This book had me reading and reading until I was done. Parts of it were slow for me but that wasn’t until towards the end and then the ending had me tearing up. The relationship between Bao and Lan grew so much. But, did it even grow? Maybe it was always the way it was, they just needed to realize what was in front of them. For the longest time I thought I was going to give it 3-4 stars but after finishing it and the ending that we got, there is no way I could give it any less than 5 stars.
Danielle Hammelef 13 days ago
This is my first book by this author and it won't be my last. I enjoyed her writing style and how she unfolded this retelling of an Asian fairy tale. The pacing for such a story was spot on--we first were introduced to the characters and then layer by layer, learned through their actions (or lack of action) and their words more about what was at stake for them. I never felt bored as the action and interactions complimented each other and always moved the plot forward. Characters saw in each other what they wanted to see, until events stole that fantasy vision and true selves were shown. The romance is slow-burning, the family relationships are heart-warming, and the friendships are fierce and loyal. Twists and turns on these characters' journeys, although not completely anticipated as it is a retelling, were done well by this talented author. I felt as if I were living along side them, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling this lushly built world. Overall, this book is gorgeous, inside and out.
Caroles_Random_Life 13 days ago
I had a fantastic time with this book! It has been a long time since I was able to read an entire book in a single day but it was so easy to get lost in this book. This wasn't a long book with less than 300 pages but I thought it told a big story. The story grabbed me from the start and the story progress at a perfect pace to keep the pages turning. I am so glad that I took a chance and decided to give this book a try. This book is listed as a companion book to the author's Rise of the Empress series. When I started reading this book, I had no idea that it had any connection to another book and I still wouldn't if I didn't happen to see it on Goodreads. This book reads wonderfully as a stand-alone story. I am thinking I may need to read the other books in the series though just because I enjoyed this one so much. This was a wonderfully imaginative fantasy. Bao has grown up as an orphan and knows that he is not worthy of those in the upper class. He has lived with a local physician and his family and is training as an apprentice. Lan is the daughter of an important man and has lived a rather charmed life. She is looking forward to setting a date for her wedding. Things fall apart for both Bao and Lan and their lives are forever changed. They must work together to beat a witch's curse and will have quite the adventure working towards that task. I really liked both Bao and Lan and wanted to see them together. They have both made mistakes in their lives but they were really a victim of circumstances more than anything. When Bao needed help, Lan didn't hesitate and I loved seeing them work together towards a common goal. They didn't ask more of each other than they thought they would be willing to give. It was really nice getting to see them get to know each other away from the opinions of society. I loved the way some magic was worked into the story. I thought that the curse was very well done and I liked how it evolved over the course of the story. I liked that the magic wasn't an overpowering part of the story but there was enough to add a really nice element to the story. This book had a very nice balance of action, romance, and magic. I would recommend this book to others. I thought that this was a really well-done story that was a lot of fun to read. This was the first book by Julie C. Dao that I have had the chance to read but I wouldn't hesitate to pick up more of her work in the future. I received an advanced review copy of this book from Philomel Books via Bookish First.