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Book Review: Strike the Zither

Genre: YA Fantasy, Retelling Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: WOC

After reading an excerpt of Strike the Zither by Joan He I was enticed, but after finishing the book I was absolutely blown away! To be honest The Ones We’re Meant to Find had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I eventually ended up donating it because I wasn’t sure that I would ever get to it, but now I’m regretting that. Strike the Zither was one of those books that is clearly a five-star read from the first few chapters!

Having grown up as an orphan, Zephyr was determined to raise herself out of poverty. After studying under multiple mentors she decided to live a life of solitude, but changes her mind when Ren, a warlordess who fights for her people, approaches her, asking Zephyr to be her strategist. When Zephyr finally agrees, she did not realize how much she was committing to, but finds her loyalties truly lie with Ren’s cause.

From the outset of this novel I was captivated! It was interesting reading about a protagonist who is not typical. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with a strategist as a protagonist before and it added a lot of new and interesting aspects to the story. I also enjoyed how He stayed true to Zephyr’s identity as a strategist throughout the novel.

Additionally, this novel was inspired by Three Kingdoms, which is a classic story in Chinese literature. While I have not read Three Kingdoms, it was clear from the author’s note that she made a huge effort to incorporate aspects of the original story into this retelling. One change she made was to change the gender of many characters, as only men were seen as fit to be rulers or strategists in the original story, and in history. I thought this change was fitting and improved the novel, just as the things He mirrored from the original added to the story as well.

Furthermore, Zephyr is such a compelling character. I was so invested in her personal story and seeing where that would take her. The novel is split into two parts (at very logical points in the story I might add) and Zephyr is the biggest constant throughout the novel. When her world was forever changed halfway through the book, I felt heartbroken like she did. Her spirit and defiance added fire to the story as well.

Finally, the plot really made this novel shine. Joan He mentions that she thinks this book is her best, and while I haven’t read her other books, I find it hard to imagine her being able to top the epic adventure of Strike the Zither. It truly was everything I could ask for in a book, and left me begging for answers. There were also quite a few plot twists (some predictable, some not) that added a fun element to the novel.

Overall, Strike the Zither was a heartbreakingly beautiful fantasy novel, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

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