This book is a mix between history and fantasy, and was released a little over a month ago. I am so happy I was able to read it because this book may be my new favorite book released this year that I’ve read–so far. This may simply because of my immense interest in learning about Chinese history, or my interest in mythology. Whatever the case, this book ticked all the boxes for things I like in books. I’m gushing…sorry, let’s take a step back.
Release: May 12, 2020
Page Count: 400 pages
Synopsis: Set in the 1930’s, this lush historical novel draws on the dark history of the Japanese invasion of China and Chinese mythology. It follows Minghua University students who are ordered to leave the city of Nanking in 1937 as the Japanese army approaches, moving inland while carrying precious ancient mythical folklore texts known collectively as the Library of Legends. With them travel Hu Lian, a young woman desperate to find out if her mother is alive, and Liu Shaoming, a wealthy young man with a mysterious maidservant named Sparrow. Together they must brave the darkness of war and myth as the gods awake and the fate of a nation is changed forever.
I loved this book! The lush historical detail, the moving character stories, the hope in dark times, the fantasy elements mixed with reality, and the mix between mystery, romance, and fantasy. I’m surprised that the book is 400 pages, because I felt like I whizzed through it. I honestly couldn’t put it down. Usually I think books of this length could have been edited down more, but I wouldn’t take a single scene out of this one. Despite it having a massive array of background characters, the few basic main characters kept the narrative easy to follow and each background character was developed enough to make them feel real. Even the ending I was really pleased with, as I kept expecting the book to take so many different turns than it did.
The historical context is perhaps the best part of the book. Minghua 123 was indeed a group of university students and faculty who transported the “Library of Legends” to safety. The books shows the tough travels of the students, but also the immense poverty throughout China because of many people losing their homes due of the Japanese invasion. The feeling of living in constant dread that a bomb might fall in an instant and kill a person. That the International Settlements, especially in Shanghai, were practically overrun (as it was the only place the Japanese didn’t dare take over). How many soldiers traveling to the front lines died within a matter of days. I found the historical context both moving, but also understandable and easy to follow because it was shown from the eyes of a small few.
Now, I won’t get too into the fantasy elements because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but behind the real history there is also the subplot of the gates of Heaven closing and all the Chinese gods and goddesses and mythical spirits having to hurry into Heaven before the gates close forever. One of the professors, Professor Kang, sees spirits and gives them the news of the gates closing as the university travels. There is also the story of a star who fell from Heaven, a handmaid of the Queen of the Heavens, and fell in love with a human but is doomed to remain immortal while he is reborn again and again, never recognizing her. That’s a big part of the plot, but I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.
Lian is kind of the main character, as she travels with the university but hopes to return to Shanghai to find her mother hopefully alive. Shao is perhaps the second main character, a friend of Lian’s and from a wealthy family. These two were the main characters, and yet it was not them themselves that I liked but more all the people they met along the journey that effected them.
The ending also is mostly happy (again, no details). I appreciated that Chang could have ended the book in despair, and yet she choose to end it on a note of hope, despite the darkness of what was happening in China at the time.
I absolutely adored this book and I will definitely be reading more of Chang’s novels. Have you read this book or does it look like something you would read? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,