Cover Image: Sound the Gong

Sound the Gong

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Member Reviews

I wasn't sure how Joan He was going to top the awesomeness that was Strike the Zither, but here we are. Everything I loved about STZ—the rich, multi-faceted characters (CROW), the epic plot twists and spectacular schemes, and thought-provoking themes came back even bigger and better. Joan is an incredible craftswoman who can tell a thrilling story, and she's not afraid to ask hard questions; mad respect for that.

When Joan said the theme of Sound the Gong would be "people aren't pawns", I knew I needed to read it—so many YA books I've run across tend to communicate that the end justifies the means, and STG does the opposite of that. Zephyr justifies her brutality in the name of loyalty, but the consequences don't allow her to get away with it. She doesn't get neat, tidy ending (and nor would that be helpful), but she did get to redeem many of her mistakes and it was satisfying. As for Crow, I was really, really hoping we'd get more of him in STG, and the man does not disappoint. The tenderness underneath his sarcasm was just what this often-gritty book needed. I'm in love with his dynamic with Zephyr in this book. They're not sweet, they're not demonstrative, they're definitely not cute. But they're equals, they match wits, and they slowly become better people even if it's pulling teeth; and that's a relationship I can get behind. (Also, Crow's ending? No spoilers, but it's beautiful.)

The plot of STG is part roadtrip, part war epic, part battle of the minds, and while it sounds weird, it works. The focus felt a bit more zoomed-in, with fewer moving parts onscreen at once most of the time, but the broader stakes always felt clear and present. Which always impresses me, because I've seen too many books where war plotlines get short-changed in favor of individual character relationships, or vice versa. The fact that this is based on a historic Chinese classic blows my mind—it's obviously a modern homage to a source the author deeply cares about and wants to share with others.

Definitely be sure to read the content warnings Joan shared in her "review" of this book before picking it up, because it tackles some hard topics. It's thoughtfully done and far from graphic, but some stomach-turning things are implied to have happened. I personally loved how carefully she depicted them and didn't feel they were gratuitous. A necessary disclaimer—because of some of my personal beliefs certain aspects of the story, like the magic system element where characters get separated from their bodies, never sat comfortably with me. But the magic did bring some fantastic thematic depth to Zephyr and Crow's relationship, so I'm torn. All that's to say, the magic itself wasn't my cup of tea (which feels weird to say because it was a big part of the story), but it was well-crafted.

Overall, calling this a 4.5 rounded up for a sweeping story well told.

Joan completely hooked me with this duology and I'm so excited to see what she writes next!

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I definitely should have reread Strike the Zither first. That being said this was really exciting and interesting, I am usually a sucker for a happy ending but I like the realistic ending this book had which makes sense given its genre. I am definitely going to have to reread asap. I love gods and human war stories and the possession. It was makes it read more like myth retelling, and despite the grave at topics the stories cover i always find them fun and interesting. I will never tire of this kind of stories,

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Again love the premise, STZ is fantastic. But the pacing of this one just doesn't land for me. For the amount of time we spent doing Chi Bi in STZ having multiple historic conflicts in 1 book is a bit odd. Felt like there was a lot of padding in the middle and it could have been contained to a stand alone.

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Zephyr could come for me and I'd let her. I am consistently amazed and impressed with the twists and turns from Joan He. Talk about a book where I just strap in for the ride and turn my brain off. It's a book about sabotage, battles of wits, and strategic moves. For these strategists, and most of the characters in Sound the Gong, can they ever truly have friends or loves when everything seems to be a chess game?

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Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing, Roaring Brook Press, and NetGalley for the ARC of Sound the Gong by the ever-talented Joan He.

WOW. JOAN HE. THE BRILLIANT STORYTELLER YOU ARE!! This end to the duology was iconic, painful, and perfect.

As Joan has said, this is a book best read directly after its predecessor Strike the Zither. In Sound the Gong, we trek along the finale to Zephyr’s hard laid plans. It is full throttle from page one and seamlessly flows to finish out the story. It took my breath away and I would’ve willingly drowned to read the tale of mortals and gods and strategists and war.

To Zephyr and Crow- I will think of you forever. May I read of you in another life too.

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“But while we are here, we live. We love. We leave our marks. Rain and wind may eventually erase them, but it won’t erase the lǐ I walked with everyone.”

Sound the Gong is the sequel to Strike the Zither and it should have been titled something like "Torture Crow for 300 pages" because that's entirely what happened.

So much happens at the end of Strike the Zither, it's a political fantasy unlike anything I've ever read before - it's got cunning MC's that truly will do anything for the upper hand, will break every sacred vow, will give up their soul over and over again putting themselves into utter damnation just to see their loved ones succeed.

And Sound the Gong looked at that and said "let me show you true pain" and came up with this. It's not really fair to call this a romance since our MC's actively hate / despise each other for a majority of their lives, but the begrudging respect for how good they are exists best with this line - "Why did the universe have to make you when there was already a me?"

Crow/ Zither are two sides of the same coin, ruthless, brutal and waiting to leave a mark on history, even only as a secondary player. This book makes it so easy to get caught up in the story that you don't even see the slow slip of darkness that Zephyr goes down. Her choices become less and less "good" and more and more deadly and manipulative and I loved to see it.

This book definitely ends with an open ending and as much as I loved it... GO READ THE BONUS EPILOGUE !!! IT'S EVERYTHING

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I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
Sound the Gong closes out Joan He’s Kingdom of the Three duology beautifully. He once again wears her influences on her sleeve, again pulling from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms for inspiration, with all its political intrigue and moral complexity.
Zephyr remains an intriguing character, even as she remains morally gray, even truly dark at times. But she is not without principles; it’s simply that she’ll do what she must to achieve her goals. Another character, Crow, also has a much more prominent role in this book, and I became as invested in his fate as I was Zephyr’s…even though I had a feeling it would not end well, even without extensive knowledge of the source material.
While not necessarily fast paced, there’s enough going on with the balance of politicking/scheming and action that I was invested throughout, and felt that He did justice to the narrative she was trying to tell.
This was an epic read, and I’d recommend both books to readers looking for an epic Chinese-inspired YA fantasy.

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I loved the conclusion to the duology! Sound the Gong was a great sequel to Strike the Zither, building characters to become more complex. I usually do not like open-ended endings, but this one was the best choice for the story. I can’t wait to see what else Joan He writes in the future.

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I didn’t want to put this one down. Indeed I kept making excuses to pick it up at rather inconvenient times and tearing through the story in large chunks. Unlike Strike the Zither, which I felt had a rather slow build (insofar as the “so what” for our MC was concerned), Sound the Gong hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the end (where it unfortunately fizzles out; I understand why it ended the way it did, but honestly I wasn’t a fan of the coda/epilogue and would much rather it just have ended at the last chapter. Then again, I’m also a notorious hater of epilogues in general, so take that with a grain of salt.)

Though it certainly made the story more interesting and unique, I wasn’t a fan of how easy it was for Zephyr to escape death.

I think Ren, Cicada, and Cloud were such impressively dynamic characters in this story and it was a pleasure to read about their messy inner conflicts and how they were seen and interpreted.

I am marginally familiar with the story of Three Kingdoms - so seeing how He played with expectations was fascinating, and I think really did a service to giving modern readers a way to better latch on to the characters.

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{ spoiler-free review }

SOUND THE GONG picks up right after the cliffhanger of STRIZE THE ZITHER - this conclusion feels more epic in terms of battles and war strategies and I had a highly enjoyable time delving into the characters and their mind games. In a world where Gods walk in the realms, the characters ruthlessly sacrifice to achieve their goals and rewrite destiny. He is successful at crafting reimagined and morally grey characters; and she doesn't hesitate to capture their deepest humanity. The characters are fully fleshed out, whose arc are thoroughly satisfying.

While ZITHER has more popular scenes known by Western audience - Red Cliff and Zhuge Liang's legendary arrow borrowing scene - SOUND is more political, the pages loaded with tactics, scheming, unfair odds, revenge and betrayals that offer a more clever experience. The author's strength is in the interaction between the characters/strategists, whose acts move like chess pieces (象棋) while their unspoken connections blossom, stronger than shared blood.

With confident writing and steady unwinding, SOUND is darker and more layered. Plenty of tension and tragedies drive the story committed with the principles of Confucianism, also convulsing emotions and spirit of Xianxia. The action-packed narrative doesn't detract from the emotions and I found myself attached to the characters. At last, He delivers a (tragic and) more-than-satisfying closure that almost moved me to tears.

SOUND THE GONG is a triumphant conclusion of an unforgettable duology. 'Kingdom of Three' is an extensively researched YA historical fantasy that pays homage to the classic Chinese figure 'Liu Bei'. If you are looking for a well-written novel with textured characters and bright engagement with Chinese history, I can't recommend this enough. This is my favorite Joan He and I am looking forward to reading He's next work.

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SOUND THE GONG is a dazzling conclusion to the Kingdom of Three duology that answers the age-old question, "would anyone sit down for a 350+ page adaptation of the devil and bagel vine?" with a resounding yes. Jokes aside, I had an immensely good time reading this sequel and revisiting all the characters after a torturous 15 minutes of separation. I really can't recommend reading them back to back enough, especially because this book is somehow even more action-packed and doesn't spend much time doing the early chapters sparknotes.

While I got even more of what I loved from the first book (found family, political machinations, and Crow, lord the Crow content in this one), I really enjoyed the exploration of fate, choice, and the multitudes each person contains. I didn't have any basis for the story of the Three Kingdoms before diving into this world, but I can tell it was adapted with both great love and a discerning eye, and has made me even more excited to seek it out.

Overall, the fast pace and shifting alliances make for one of the most bingeable series I've read in a long time. I loved watching Zephyr's ruthlessness alongside her battling between morality and divinity, and I was thoroughly satisfied with this conclusion.

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Sound the Gong is a clever, intricately plotted, political YA fantasy with layered, morally grey characters and a cracking pace. I was so excited to see more of Zephyr and Crow's interactions and I was NOT disappointed - once again, the tension between the two was excellent, the banter top notch. Joan He displays an admirable confidence in her writing, never shying away from being brutal and dark. A fantastic conclusion to a brilliant duology!

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I've read Strike the Zither with easy mind, it was not spectacular but indeed a good one. So I put my hopes high for the wrap up in Sound the Gong. But it gave me nothing but confusion. The pace is rather slow with no particular important plot. Underdevelop characters, with so many of them. Layered conflict with no spark of light.

Only the banter keep me seated. But it much less and less entertaining through the story.

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A huge thank you to Macmillan books and @joanhewrites for the honor of the e-ARC to Sound the Gong!

This duology had me in a chokehold for the last few weeks. I had my copy of Strike the Zither for a hot minute as I knew Sound the Gong would be released this year in the spring. I wanted to read them back to back, and I’m so glad that I did! (Go get your preorders in! Publish day is 4/30!)

I am a huge sucker for historical fiction and fantasy and these check both of those needs for me. STZxSTG are a retelling of the Three Kingdoms of China but with a twist! It’s a genderbent retelling! Lotus was definitely the most fun character for me.

The dynamic between Zephyr and Crow was both entertaining and frustrating at the same time. The star-crossed strategists bantered and played one another while ignoring their feelings for each other from start to finish. Crow is my absolute favorite though! (Surprise surprise. Me loving the broody boy)

We also get to meet some pretty funny Gods that are just as flawed as the humans in the story. Nadir deserves so much better!

I don’t want to spoiler this for anyone, but please trust me in saying the pain of this series is worth it! If only for the little slice of happiness we get with the bonus epilogue!

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*Thank you to Roaring Brook Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review*

Honestly? I feel like this duology was just one book that got chopped in half, and the second book suffered for it. I wasn't as familiar with the world (as it'd been a year since I read the first book), so a lot of the stakes weren't as meaningful. A lot of the cool worldbuilding and action was in Strike the Zither, leaving us with mostly moral dilemmas and foregone conclusions in Sound the Gong. It was still intricately researched and I learned a lot, but I was disappointed with the second book overall.

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After adoring Strike the Zither, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel. I was so nervous to start it though; I got an ARC months and months ago, but I knew Joan was going to break my heart like she always does. Sound the Gong certainly pulls no punches and leaves you stunned by the ending.

This review contains spoilers for book one, Strike the Zither.

Still in Lotus’s body, Zephyr continues to scheme in secret from her place alongside Ren. She’s still facing Miasma as a threat and reeling from the betrayal of Cicada and Crow. But for all her plots, can she really go against destiny and the will of the gods?

I knew that the original idea was to just have one, long standalone book, and I think you can certainly tell that it was split in half here. This book picks up pretty immediately after the first book’s ending, but thankfully the author has written a recap, if you’re like me and don’t have time to reread the first book. This was extremely helpful although I do kinda wish I had reread Strike the Zither anyways just because it would’ve immersed me in the world more.

Anyways, all this being said, Sound the Gong doesn’t leave much room for you to breathe. It’s very plot-heavy, especially in the first half, and is constantly moving. Zephyr proves to be an even more intriguing character than the first book. I knew she was ruthless and willing to do whatever she would to win for Ren, but I was amazed by a lot of the decisions she made! She is a morally gray character through and through, but her convictions always remain strong. I’m still reeling from one of the main plot points of this book, like Joan, you really did that…

Zephyr and Crow’s dynamic remains my favorite aspect of the series. They both understand each other in a way that nobody else does, and I can’t stop thinking about the implications of this throughout the story. I can’t even go into detail about them here because of spoilers, but just know that they are haunting me right now [had another thought and had to redact myself here].

I’m personally not super familiar with the Three Kingdoms, so reading the author’s note at the end was very enlightening. This series is certainly as close a homage to the original tale as it can be, which I think makes it a very unique story in YA fantasy today. If you’re in the market for a thrilling and engaging fantasy with a lot of political intrigue, you should definitely pick up the Kingdom of Three duology!

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Thank you to Macmillan Children's Publishing Group | Roaring Brook Press for an eARC of Sound the Gong!

My jaw met the floor. What an epic conclusion to this duology! I loved Sound the Gong even more than Strike the Zither. Non stop action and twists and turns and tragedy. You can really feel all the emotion that was put into writing this book. Just incredible!!

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Thank you NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press for the e-arc!
Such a fantastic continuation of the series! Series and I have been waiting for the next book to come out. If you love fantasy books and have been looking for something a bit more unique and really captivating this is it. It really has the perfect mix of fantasy elements and political intrigue to grab my attention and keep it throughout the series.
I definitely recommend reading the first book relatively close to the second book as I think it definitely helps understand the story. This is not a series I would put down and then pick up the second one without rereading the first. There are a lot of moving parts and I absolutely love Zephyr as a character. She is one of the reasons why I enjoy the series so much.

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I got the first one as an ARC from Netgalley, and I was thrilled to be able to get the second too! Finishing Zephyr's journey was great, and I loved the retelling of the Three Kingdoms era politics. Would highly recommend!

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I was SO excited to get the ARC from NetGalley, and this book did NOT disappoint. I liked the way it ended, and I won’t spoil it, but while some might find it unsatisfactory, it feels right. This book had a lot more “body-hopping” as one might see, and seeing how Zephyr was not able to utilize much of her magic besides changing bodied, it was interesting to see the lengths she went to to serve Ren. I must admit, I forgot why she was so dead-set, having read the first book months ago, and there were plenty of times it could have been explained in better detail than the “Rising Zephyr Operation” or however it was named…but that’s a more personal griff than a structural story issue.

The end with explaining the mirror of Chinese history as inspiration was helpful, and made me more curious about Chinese classics and histories.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this. And if you DIDNT like the ending…there’s an alternate ending on Joan He’s website!

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