A Spark Of White Fire By Sangu Mandanna – Inspired By Mahabharata, A Lost Princess, Divine Intervention; Stunning From Start To Finish

TEXT: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna. Background depicts a galaxy, with a cluster of white stars that form the shape of a crown, and spaceship flies across the screen.
Blurb:

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

My review:

Discovering new favourite books can sometimes feel like finally releasing a long breath – you’ve been waiting for it, you feel like life has returned to you, and you feel invigorated. The relief and satisfaction of discovering and reading A Spark of White Fire cannot be described by words. It is a science-fiction space opera, inspired by the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, and follows a lost princess who infiltrates the circles of those who stole her family’s crown, only to realise that they may not be as wicked as she once believed. I’m in awe, friends. A Spark of White Fire is thoroughly brilliant, and I hope my book review will convince you to pick up this new YA SF gem.

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A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman – Asian Diaspora Authors Re-imagine Their Favourite Folktales

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wrapped up in a fluffy green blanket while reading a book, with her purple hat peeking out under the blanket.The last time you visited the Pond, Xiaolong was under her blanket, her eyes glued to the book she was reading. (It looked like she hadn’t gotten out of bed yet!) “Friend, you know I always love talking to you but I’m reading this really, really good book right now and I want to finish this book so I can tell you all about it. Come back later?”

Ah yes, you understand that feeling of a good book all too well. A few days have indeed passed now, and you find yourself pretty excited to hear what Xiaolong has to say about her latest read.

However, when you find Xiaolong, paper and books are at by feet, and she looks like she is hard at work looking for something. When she hears you approach, she smiles her big smile, but she doesn’t look excited, like she normally does. Instead, she looks like she’s thinking about something from a long, long time ago.

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wearing an upside-down purple flower hat, sitting on the ground with papers and books around her. “Hi friend,” she says in an unusually quiet voice when you sit down across from her. “I finally finished the book. And I loved it! But, it got me thinking a lot about where I come from.” She pauses. When you look a little bit closer at the papers scattered around her, you see illustrations of axolotls, runes, and long paragraphs in tiny print. “I’d like to tell you about it one day, but maybe not today, because you’re here to listen about my new book, right?”

And when you nod, her eyes light up, her big grin is back, and she jumps to her feet. Although you can’t wait to hear about this book, you can’t help but feel a little curious about Xiaolong’s past. Maybe she will tell you one day if you continue visiting.

“So!” she begins, hugging the book to her chest. “This is an anthology, and it’s called A Thousand Beginnings and Endings…”

Text: A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS edited by Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman.

Summary:

Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.

My review:

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is an anthology of fifteen short stories inspired by Asian mythology and folklore, retold and reimagined by diasporic Asian authors. From Chinese to Filipino to Punjabi, the anthology is diverse in itself – from the cultures and mythologies represented, the genres ranging from science-fiction, fantasy, and contemporary, to the themes explored – and all are told from the author’s distinct voice and perspective.

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The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan – An Evocative Story of Biraciality, Mental Illness & Family

A white bird against a red-purple background, with the text THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, Emily X.R. Pan, a novel in its center.
Summary:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My review:

Note: The following review will discuss depression and suicide.

The Astonishing Colour of After is a poignant and evocative story about mental illness, family, identity, and grief. It tells of a biracial teenage, Leigh, and her search for her mother, who Leigh believes has transformed into red bird following her suicide. And thus she follows her mother’s feathers to Taiwan where, there, she not only meets her estranged grandparents but also discovers her family history, the secrets, and the truths about her mother.

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Jade City by Fonda Lee – Asian-influenced Urban Fantasy + Martial Art + Magical Jade = The Most Amazing Book I’ve Read, Ever

Text: JADE CITY, Fonda Lee. Round 'button' on bottom-right showing

Xiaolong the axolotl holding her arms up, with green, glowing, and sparkly jade bangles on her wrists.Xiaolong waddles to you, holding a thick green book and her staff in her little hands.

“Friend!” she calls, her eyes twinkling and her pink gills perky. “I just read the most amazing book. But before I tell you about it, look at the spell I came up with!”

She puts down the book, and waves her staff once clockwise, then counter-clockwise, and POOF!

Xiaolong the axolotl, wearing jade bangles and punching the air with her right arm.

With a puff of smoke and golden sparkle-dust, two perfectly fitting jade bangles appear around Xiaolong’s wrists! She throws a punch once (though her little hands don’t have much reach; she is a spellcaster, not a martial artist, after all!), then twice, and next she’s doing a quick succession of jabs, the jade bangles crackling with power.

Scared that she might hurt herself (or you), you ask her, “So… what is this book about?”

She stops, blinks up at you. “Oh yes friend! Thank you for reminding me.” Xiaolong plops onto the ground next to the book, still wearing her jade bangles, and holds the book’s cover out for you to see. “So, this book is called Jade City…”

Summary:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

My review:

Jade City is an Asian-influenced urban fantasy that pays homage to gangster dramas, and has elements of wuxia. But it’s more than just that – Jade City is a masterpiece that has everything from gripping fights between powerful warriors called Green Bones, to the politics of war, territory battles and family, to the tender moments of love, dedication, honour, and loss.

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