Strike the Zither (Kingdom of Three; 1) by Joan He

“Joan He’s plot-weaving skills are unmatched in the realm of political intrigue and espionage.”

Review by Rayleigh Setser

The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.

But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.

Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged—while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one—and not all of them are human.

An epic YA fantasy about found family, rivals, and identity, from New York Times and Indie bestselling author Joan He, inspired by Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Classics of Chinese Literature.

Release Date: 10/25/22

Genre: YA Fantasy | Historical/Mythological Retelling

Pages: 368

I adored Descendant of the Crane by Joan He and was incredibly intrigued by this one when I heard about it.

While I loved the story and it’s musical focus, I felt that the book was too introspective for me to love it. Most of the story happened in Zephyr’s head, either in the form of thoughts or dreams, so I had difficulty keeping myself interested. The action scenes were by far my favorite parts, so I just wish that I had been more up close and personal with everything that happened without being stuck in Zephyr’s head as much as I was. I wanted to get to know the other characters, I wanted to fall in love with Crow, but because Zephyr spent so much time thinking about everything, I didn’t get to experience that natural-connection I desired.

The story is a twisty-turny surprise though! That was one of the things that I loved so much about Joan He’s writing when I read Descendant of the Crane, I couldn’t predict anything that happened! That still holds true for Strike the Zither. Joan He’s plot-weaving skills are unmatched in the realm of political intrigue and espionage. I look forward to continuing this series, so fingers crossed that it gets better with every book!

Content-wise: Gore is pretty high both in description and method of deaths; definitely high PG-13. Some heavy curse words used sporadically. No spice content, only one mild kiss.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Content Ratings:

Action & Gore:

Rating: 6 out of 10.
6. Strong action/gore (most action sequences describe blood loss and the injury to a clear picture, albeit brief or infrequent).

Romance & Spice:

Rating: 2 out of 10.
2. Mild content (holding hands and mild kissing).

Cursing & Vulgarity:

Rating: 6 out of 10.
6. Strong cursing (mild cursing paired with 3-10 strong words).

Other Trigger/Content Warnings:


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