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.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Julie Dao (www.juliedao.com) 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
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.