Completed 10/15/2022, Reviewed 10/15/2022
I guess I like Yang’s more sprawling stories because this one got me like the first. It’s a short novella, but tells the story of how the Protector came into power through the eyes of her former closest confident. I usually don’t care for court intrigue. However, this one gave just enough detail to keep it enthralling and fast paced. It’s told as if the narrator is recounting the past to someone, but the style makes it feel very immediate. This book was nominated for several novella category awards.
The narrator of this book is Lady Han. As a child she was sold from her poor farming family and then sold again into prostitution. She serviced high ranking officials and also performed as a dancer with the other girls from the house where she worked. At one function, Hekate, the daughter of the Protector, contacts her and asks her to steal documents from one of her clients, a high ranking noble who supports a cousin as the next Protector. Hekate wants to see her brother on the throne instead. Lady Han does the deed and the uses the documents to discredit the noble and the cousin. Thus begins the relationship with Lady Han and the eventually ascension of Hekate to the throne.
Lady Han is a great character. She’s loyal to a fault, but eventually has epiphanies that lead her to realize she can’t trust Hekate. In a short eighty pages, she grows from a naïve young girl to a wise old woman who can see through the mess her life has become being associated with Hekate. This is one of Yang’s strongest points. She creates believable characters with depth and passion. As for Hekate, we knew what she was like from the first three books, and this story shows she was a shrewd and cunning person from early in her life. Her cruelty begins later in the book after a betrayal by her brother.
I like origin stories. I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. The other origin story I can think of that blew my mind was “Dragonsdawn” by Anne McCaffrey. It’s a very different book, but it’s another example of how a prequel can be great after having been immersed in the world building through the previous books.
I don’t have much more to say about this book, it being short and too easy to stumble into spoilers. But it’s a great ending to a terrific series. I give this book four stars out of five. Overall, I’d say the series is four stars as well, even though I gave the middle two books only three stars. I loved the world building, the prose, the characters, the form. If Yang continued to write novellas in this series, I’d definitely read them.