Author: Ellen Oh
Genre: YA, fantasy, semi-historical fiction
Publication Date: January 2, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms… is a girl with yellow eyes.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a fun fantasy debut for the YA set!
Review: While this book wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, it was still a really great older MG/young YA debut for 2013 and I’m definitely interested in the next book in this trilogy. While the comparison to “Graceling” isn’t entirely accurate, the amount of ethnic originality (as well as smashing three different semi-prehistoric Asian cultures into one huge set of seven kingdoms) was absolutely delicious. While there’s still lots of room for improvement, this was a very fun read, and one I think will help young YA get a foothold into the epic fantasy genre with. If you’re looking for a more original epic fantasy this new year, give “Prophecy” a try.
I think the area that needed the most development was the worldbuilding. While it was quite thorough in some areas (current events and relations with the Han and the Yamato), I felt that in quite a few areas it still needed to be worked on (past history with both other ethnic kingdoms, as well as more on the semi-mythological birth of the seven kingdoms themselves). It could have been tighter and a little more cohesive when bringing together all three of these cultures, but what I got was satisfactory enough to work with. I definitely wanted more on the worldbuilding front. Still, for a debut effort, this isn’t bad, not bad at all.
As for the plot, there’s a very Tolkien-esque journey-to-find-precious-thing plot going on, and while that’s a major fixed trope in most high fantasy books, just like Tolkien, Oh focuses a lot on the journey itself (and not the destination), so you’re in for a lot of walking around. The fight scenes are absolutely great, and the sensory imagery and language was incredibly lovely in the more heavily cultural areas of the book (clothing, food, architecture, and so forth). One definitely does get the sense that this just could be one version of ancient Korea before it became its own country and not seven kingdoms, all fantasy elements aside.
What interested me the most, however, is that Oh definitely inserts the very real-life conflicts between Korea and Japan (known as Yamato in this book). While it doesn’t make blatant references to real life injustices done by each party to each other (or one more to the other, really), the sense of tension is absolutely spot-on, and I found myself intrigued that Oh put this in here – whether she made it a conscious effort or not. Japan hasn’t really done Korea too many favors within the last century or so in real life (kids, go on wikipedia to find out more), so to make them the literal demon soldiers invading the seven kingdoms was really fascinating. Not really subtle, but I could still work with it.
The characters were my favorite part of this book by far. I loved Kira, and I loved the fact that she struggled with not only her identity as a human being (everyone calling her a kumiho, or nine-tailed demon fox, didn’t really help that), but also the not-so-subtle gender identity issues that she also went through really won me over. I love it when YA authors can talk about gender identity issues without always couching it in depression and suicide, so Oh really did a great job of that here. While Kira was raised as if she were a boy, a soldier, and while there are some pre-romantic elements going on with Jaewon, it was refreshing that there was no real solid romance going on in this particular book, and we really got to see Kira come into herself in nearly all areas – girl, warrior, hero. And yet, she still doesn’t get all of the credit she deserves. Which, really? Got my attention, and for now has me in for the long haul. We see her being pressured on all sides to dress in girls’ clothes and get married, but nope. Kira isn’t having any of that. Which was really great to see.
Final verdict? While this could have used maybe one more draft to really tighten it up, “Prophecy” was a really fun read, and I’m definitely in for book two of the trilogy, due out in 2014. “Prophecy” is out January 2, 2013 from HarperTeen, so be sure to check it out then!