Review: Strike the Zither by Joan He

Strike the Zither by Joan He

Strike the Zither (Kingdom of Three #1)
Joan He
Roaring Brook Press
Published October 25, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Strike the Zither

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.

Strike the Zither on Goodreads

My Review

I’ve read both the other young adult novels Joan He has written, and I loved them both. In one, the main character has the same first name and spelling as I do– the first time I’ve ever seen that– and the other absolutely blew me away.

I can see why this book has been criticized for having an arrogant protagonist. If STRIKE THE ZITHER had been the first book by the author that I’d ever read, I would have felt more discouraged by that. Instead, I kept waiting for the commentary or consequences or plot twists that I’ve come to expect from the author, and wow, she totally delivered again.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Zephyr’s character at the beginning of the book, but I was fascinated by her. The plight of a smart woman in a world that values brute strength even while it benefits from her expertise really resonated with me. It was easy to begin to see Zephyr’s arrogance as a carefully crafted wall between her and everyone else and that being right was kind of her only safe space.

I love Ren and Cloud, too: the honor-bound leader and her sworn sister general. As the story unfolds, we learn about connections between characters we wouldn’t expect. Alliances shift and buckle, and new ones emerge. While the story is truly about relationships between characters and the power of loyalty and honor, one of the things the author delivers so expertly is in the way she manages all the pieces she’s placed on the gameboard of the story. The tension rises in the right places

I think DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE is still my favorite book by Joan He, but I truly enjoyed this one, too. I’m definitely going to keep following this series.

Strike the Zither on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

The characters are Chinese. One minor character is in love with another woman.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Vague references to sex.

Spiritual Content
A pantheon of gods exists, and they’re forbidden from interfering with human affairs. When gods misbehave, a leader god punishes them.

Violent Content
Battle violence. Descriptions of torture and execution. One of the warlordesses is particularly cruel in how she treats those she perceives as enemies.

A man makes threatening comments toward a woman, referencing his desire to assault her.

Drug Content
Characters consume alcohol at feasts or in celebration. Some characters become drunk and do regrettable things.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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