"Strike the Zither" by Joan He is a great bend of intrigue, strategy, and unexpected twists that sends you into a vividly rendered world of war, politics, and betrayal. Following the strategist Zephyr, the story on her schemes to outwit foes and secure power. While the book draws inspiration from the epic tales of the Three Kingdoms, knowledge of this period is not required to enjoy the book. It explores themes like found family and subterfuge, and a plot that keeps you guessing until the very end. Despite mixed feelings about the direction of its mid-story twist it has compelling characters, and at the moment I'm really enjoying more character driven stories, so this was a step in the right direction for me. Really looking forward to the next one.
Strike the Zither is a book I was really excited for, but kind of fell short of what I’d hoped Many Thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
So the story is a retelling of a Chinese mythology story and normally that’s me sold. The cover artwork is also absolutely stunning and I have read some of the authors other books and loved them so gave this a chance.
I really, really struggled with this story. I don’t know if it was the plot was so heavy with character building to world building that I struggled, maybe I wasn’t familiar enough with the original story of this retelling, I don’t know but I just really struggled to stay invested in this. The writing style, pacing and authors well known love for details really shine in this book and that is honestly the main reason I persevered with this story.
Right the characters- I despised each one of them. I was not rooting for any of them and couldn’t care less what happened to them which is probably why I struggled with the story. They just felt monotonous sometimes and it felt…forced for some interactions which was a shame.
Also final note- the Plot twist in this is one of the best ones I have read in a while, it completely floored me and it’s not often that happens.
It’s definitely worth a read just for the retelling aspect to be honest, but bear in mind it may not be for everyone.
Actually 3.75 star. Quite good story, nicely written with interesting characters from start to the end. I like Zephyr. Cicada seems few steps ahead of everyone. Miasma... Hmmm... Big ego plus hunger of power. Crow - he's interesting piece... I'm not sure he is so truthful to Cicada as she think he is... Hope next book will clear this out :)
Unfortunately, I am no longer interested in this book since the tense it's written in isn't my favourite
From start to finish, STRIKE THE ZITHER keeps you on your toes. It's an exceptionally clever novel filled to the brim with political machinations, subtle subterfuge, war, honour (or, sometimes, lack thereof), and a surprisingly engaging cast of characters. STRIKE THE ZITHER would have probably gotten five stars from me if not for one hell of a twist around halfway through that really threw me for a loop, and if I'm being honest, it kind of upset the balance of the novel for me. I thought Zephyr was such an alluring persona, which is why the plot twist left a bitter aftertaste. Nevertheless, STRIKE THE ZITHER is a remarkable fantasy novel largely inspired by The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. It's definitely a book for historical fantasy fans.
Strike the Zither is a reimagining of the Chinese military epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I don't know the original epic so I can't comment on a reimaging, but I enjoyed this book. I found the plot compelling throughout and the characters are well written. I would definitely recommend checking this one out.
Preliminary 5-star review. Will post a full review and adjust the rating accordingly after I finish the book.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an e-ARC copy of this book, in exchange for this honest review.
Actual rating: 3.5 stars
I think the reason for my rating is that it took me a while to get into 'Strike the Zither'.
While I loved the plot and Zephyr as a character, I didn't really connect to a lot of the emotional beats in the first half of the book. However, there is a big twist in the second part of the book, and from then on I enjoyed 'Strike the Zither' a lot more. I am really looking forward to seeing how Zephyr's story ends.
Also it was a shame but in the kindle version of the ARC a lot of the illustrations were cut off by the formatting, which was a shame, because the illustrations I saw were really lovely.
Overall, this was a fun YA fantasy read with an excellent female cast of characters, and to be honest, I think the only reason this was a 3.5 rather than 4 star read for me is that I'm just too old to fully enjoy YA books now.
Okay I've fallen for the gorgeous cover yet again!! However, I was also interested in the fact that author was inspired by Three Kingdoms though I am not familiar with this Chinese classics. Just the fact, however, that I thought it will be set in China, I was surprised to find of the gender equality (?) in the novel. Basically, that men and women can act/occupy positions as generals, strategists, soldiers, etc. I keep having to twist my brain around this fact the protagonist is actually female and so are most of those around her. It's sad that it was hard for me to do this! However, this is, despite everything, a fantasy novel.
I found the first half of the novel rather slow though I had fun imagining certain scenes like the period dramas I used to loved watching. The second half or rather the big twist in the middle of the story really took me by surprise. I really didn't expect it to go this way at all and I loved this! I cannot wait for the finale.
Oh, I also had great fun in listening to the playlist made by author while I'm reading this book. You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list...
My thanks to Text Publishing for ecopy of book via NetGalley in exchange of my honest thoughts
I hadn’t heard of the original tale of the three kingdoms before reading this but after it definitely led me to searching up what the true tale was about.
It’s an action packed story while also exploring themes of betrayal and greed.
I loved how most of the powerful characters in this story were female and getting to explore the original tale from a female’s perspective.
Overall I would recommend this book to anybody who loves a good military fantasy and shows the power and femininity can be the same.
I DNF'd this book at 30%
The largest issue I had was that I couldn't find any reason to care which side won the war, and didn't understand why Zephyr was involved in the war at all. Her entire reason seemed to be "well, one side asked me for my help and they seemed sincere but you'll have to take my word for it as there's almost page time with that character." It therefore made it hard to believe she'd go to the lengths she was going to (becoming a traitor etc) for anything other than stubborn pride. There simply wasn't a person stake, something for me to latch onto and care about. Without that, either party could have won without a reaction from me.
I don't think it helped me that the book started right in the action, dropping me in without being able to understand what was happening for a while. Without that grounding, I probably struggled more to understand the motivations.
This is a book that's billed as YA/Crossover, and it certainly feels trapped between the two, not quite YA, not quite adult. This not quite feeling continues into the genre. It's not a historical novel, but rather it's set in a secondary world with a made up dynasty (despite my back copy writing as if it was real). But there's no magic and I couldn't work out why it had been put in a fantasy world rather than ours, what the driving reason integral to the plot that dictated its genre. I'm sure the author had one, but as a reader, I felt like I was being asked to believe it to be a fantasy world and our world at once and not quite able to believe either.
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
The mandatory 'thank you NetGalley' line is above this, but I feel like an extra thank you is required for introducing me to the powerhouse of a writer that Joan He is. With each book, I'm more enthralled with her stories. This time she makes the transition from stand-alone novels to a series (and perfectly executed as well), and it's just as clever and utterly absorbing at her other books.
I found Zepher's narration a bit hard to get into at first, but it's purposefully written to be aloof and pedantic for further character development later on down the line. It still made this a little harder to get into, but worth the wait. Zepher's character in general is worth the wait of her build-up - and something He wrote in the afterword has stuck with me. Before being a strategist, a warrior, a god or anything else, she wanted to write Zepher as a person. In a lot of authors' afterwords, the intention isn't necessarily essential or tangible to the book you've just read - but here it felt significant.
Plot-wise, Strike the Zither is perhaps the most twisty and turny from He yet - and that's saying something when her midpoint twists are always quite something to behold (this edition, of course, doesn't disappoint). But I loved that so much attention was given to expanding the worldbuilding and constructing a YA romance that didn't give in to sickly cliche temptations. Like the classical poems the story is adapted from, it felt like everything was so perfectly orchestrated, pre-ordained in events and relationships in a godlike way. And yet the characters were so desperately pushing for their own agency within it - that's what makes them human. And that's what the whole book is about.
Strike the Zither definitely made me want to go away and read the Three Kingdoms itself, but I'm not sure if I want to spoil myself on the potential ending ahead of this book's sequel. I'm sure He has retold a lot of things in her own way, and will still have a staggering finale ready for us next time.
I absolutely loved this retelling of Three Kingdoms. Zephyr is such an engaging character, full of sass and intelligence, yet undoubtedly flawed. I loved the beautiful scenes of zither music and Crow. Just Crow.
The middle did fall a bit flat and I almost put the book down, as a big change happens and I did not like it. I battled through though and I'm glad I did, as the ending made me hungry for book two! I can't wait to read more of He's writing, especially more Crow!
Although overall this had a lot of components that worked well together - the sweeping saga based on myth and military intrigue, the wonderful backdrop of Chinese landscapes and action packed fight scenes, I found that I just couldn't really connect with the characters. And I really do think that in this case, it's all down to me. Zephyr is a great character. She's knowledgeable and courageous, never backing away from conflict if she knows it's for the right reasons. When coupled with Crow I found the dynamics intriguing, but ultimately lacking in depth. This is YA, I get that, but Zephyr feels a lot like every other YA protagonist trying to discover her own place in the world.
The writing is good, and the plot is engaging with a plot twist that I didn't see coming at all, but I think I'm getting to a stage in my life where I'm struggling to connect with younger characters who are all about self discovery and adventure. It's just not something I'm personally interested in anymore. For lovers of YA though, I think this is a winner. Rich in lore, beautiful descriptions and great plot twists.
This book was good but it wasn't quite right for me. The storyline was confusing and I had to keep re-reading parts to check if I had understood what I read, the parts I did understand had me intrigued and wanted to keep going. The main character was a bit love-hate for me,. I'm all for a character who is cunning and strong, but doing anything she can to get what she wants sometimes doesn't work for me, and I found that with this book. I do love Joan's writing and I think I will give the second book a shot. I can see why people would love this book, and I hoped it would.
“Coincidences are like deities: everyone wants to believe in them.”
Thrust into a world of warlords and strategy. We follow Zephyr as she follows her path from orphan to greatness. With ruthless precision she will make decisions that her leader and those around her wouldn’t. Because wining is oh so more important than morality. It is this that ties down Zephyrs bones, bleeding weakness as the army takes on refugees and villagers - all fleeing the mass of soldiers that follow. The status quo of the Xin Empires has been in place for years. The hero warlord now the pretender to the throne. With the little empress pleading for freedom, and Ren - Zephyrs leader, hears her call. In Zephyrs bones knows she is destined for greatness, for more. Not because of bloodline, gods, or magic. But because she has bled for each success and each loss. Each step forwards on the map. Rens army has been on the retreat north for days now. Miasma is catching up, but strategy is all she knows and she will see blood.
Jumping into this book is like jumping into a game of chess, but you arent quite certain of the rules or how the pieces move. But then halfway through it turns into a game of Poker. In some senses this book felt like book two in a series, things happen so fast, relationships are created and destroyed so quickly. This book is about battle tactics, political tactics and the bare practicalities of gureilla warfare far more than it is a chosen one story. I am so excited for the sequels release!
Big thanks to Joan He and @netgalley for this arc
i liked this so much more than i thought i would. i really enjoyed following the politics and strategies and how the main character navigated the problems in her way, especially towards the end. i didn’t completely like the way the big twist was written, it just felt too fast and didn’t really allow the main character to have a proper reaction to anything. apart from that though it was great and i’m so annoyed i read this now because i need the sequel!!
This romance of the three kingdoms retelling was like a breath of fresh air! Filled with gorgeous world building, high stakes, epic twists and characters that will have you rooting for them to either win or lose!
And just look at the cover!
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read an eARC in exchange for an honest review!
i've been trying to read this for a while, and yet seem to lack any motivation to do so. i have gotten roughly 20% in and i'm not feeling particularly interested in the story. the writing style is a bit too on the nose for me, e.g. 'i did this. i thought this. then i did this' and the main characters own arrogance is hard to look past in order to want to root for her.
maybe i'll come around and pick this up again, give it another go. but for now, i'm just not really in immersed in this world, and i think that is something this book needs in order to understand and enjoy it.
I tried to read this book a month ago and I had to put it down and since then, I haven’t been able to put it back up and get it into it. To me this book was a little boring. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. It was and ok story it just wasn’t interesting enough for me to stay committed to finishing it. ⭐️⭐️⭐️