(The Celestial Kingdom Duology)
By Sue Lynn Tan
November 10, 2022 • 480 pages
Heart of the Sun Warrior, picks up shortly after the conclusion of Daughter of the Moon Goddess, where Xingyin’s life finally seems to be at peace. That is, until her home and her mother, the Moon Goddess, are attacked by guards from the Celestial Kingdom— the home of her beloved, Prince Liwei.
But as an unforeseen enemy rises and threatens the entire immortal and mortal realm, Xingyin is forced to seek the aid of sworn enemies, long dormant and mythical forces, and the assistance of a legendary warrior whom she thought was long dead.
I want to share some of my reservations about this book before raving about the conclusion. For one, where Tan’s writing is lyrical, thoughtful, and beautifully layered in metaphor in the first book, the sequel is almost encumbered by rhythm. Descriptions of events and character emotions are a far slower read and textual embellishments seemed to have taken precedence over the plot. Much of Xingyin’s own musings are repetitive and overdrawn. Had the pace been more intentional, this book would be 50 pages less than what it is.
For another, while I love a juicy love triangle, this one seems forced and stiff in its execution. For example, in several instances, we’ll get Xingyin acknowledging her love for one character and then directly after, grappling with denial and desire towards the other. One love interest is clearly given the best lines, yet Xingyin’s refusal to acknowledge her feelings for him grow tiresome and unconvincing halfway through the book.
Quite early on, it seems clear who she is going to choose, yet her thoughts and actions leading up to her realization, just don’t align with the triangle’s conclusion. While I’m happy about her choice, the sacrifice that served as a catalyst to her realization made the love seem cheap.
Now… for the good parts.
It seems as if I didn’t enjoy this book, but I did! While I complain about the somewhat gratuitous nature of Tan’s writing, I also acknowledge its beauty and her skill at her craft. The world building, as with the first book, is magical and inviting. The folklore divine and mystical. Cloud transportation? Sign me up! And when Xingyin is not agonizing over her “divided heart,” she is a strong, empathetic, and noble warrior. She has far more spunk in this book, which I love; and I stand behind (mostly) all of her choices. I also enjoyed the evolution of other characters like Wenzhi and the Celestial Empress. Unfortunately, I found Liwei to be far more bland in this book compared to the first. Still, he is consistently a kind and selfless character, which made me adore him in DMG.
But truly, the ending of the HSW is what stole my heart. Despite my conflicted feelings about the love triangle and how it was treated through most of the novel, I think the way Xingyin’s story is concluded is the best way it could have ended.
I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers because if a book makes me cry, I refuse to jeopardize that experience for anyone else. As such, this review may seem lacking. So if you’re still confused on where I stand, I hope this final thought will suffice: The Celestial Kingdom Duology will be taking pride of placement on the shelf reserved only for my favorite YA novels.
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