A soldier, a detective, a thief, and a prince come together despite their differences in order to stop a killer that threatens the peace they are trying to achieve.
Spoiler Free Review:
IMPORTANT UPDATE: After these allegations came to light, I just want to say that I don’t support this author any longer. I wanted to leave this review up because I did enjoy this book and I wrote it before I found out about any of this, but I won’t be supporting this author any longer. I won’t be including this book in any recommendation lists or pictures from now on. I’m not here to tell you to support him or to not, this is just what I personally will be doing.
This book was not at all what I expected. On the cover, there is a blurb saying that it is a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Pokemon. That immediately sold me, though now that I’ve read it, that description is not accurate. I also expected it to be more of a group journey type of story, especially because of the description, but that also wasn’t the case.
The world is a fantasy version of Asia, with countries that are clearly inspired by real world China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India (Shang, Tomoda, Jeongson, Sanbuna, and Dahal, respectively, in the book). A lot of the important plot points come from the tensions between these countries, both because of how outsiders may perceive a certain country and because of previous or current occupations. I’m not sure how much of this was based off of history, but it felt like some of it definitely was.
The magic in this world varies depending on where people are from. The two main types of magic are shadepacting, where people can make a pact with an animal that becomes a shade, and metalpacting, where people can control metal. This is where the comparisons on the cover come from. Shadepacting is quite a bit like Pokemon because shades can be summoned, but people have a much deeper connection to shades than to Pokemon. Metalpacting is similar to bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but again, there is more of a connection to the metal than there is through bending.
Learning about all the magic and all of the intricacies of the world really made the beginning of this book go so slowly for me. I had a hard time getting motivated to read because I was thrown what felt like a ton of information and I didn’t know how much would be relevant later on. Once I got the hang of things though, I was so connected to the characters.
The characters are split into two separate groups for almost the entire book, which shocked me because the synopsis makes it sound like they are working in a group the whole time. The first group is Lee, a Jeongsonese thief, and Xiulan, a detective princess from Shang. I really enjoyed their dynamic as they were travelling together. Xiulan is very book smart and clever, but Lee has the street smarts to make up where Xiulan lacks. Lee has to face some of her not-so-great coping mechanisms because of Xiulan, and I really enjoyed watching her growth.
The second group is Tala, a soldier from Sanbuna, and Jimuro, the recently freed prince of Tomoda. This was such an interesting relationship to watch. Tala starts out as something like Jimuro’s jailer, but I loved seeing them grow past that. To Jimuro, Tala’s pact with her shade is disgusting and vile, as shadepacting is seen as slavery in Tomoda. I loved seeing him learn about shades through Tala and slowly unlearn his previous prejudices.
I loved seeing all of the main four characters grow throughout this book. This definitely felt like a more character-driven book, at least to me. The driving conflict of the story kind of got lost to me, but I was so interested in the characters that I didn’t really care.
There was so much casual diversity in this book and it was super refreshing. There were all manner of LGBTQ+ characters, both as primary and secondary characters. One side character is trans and it was never made out to be a big deal, just a small moment of him explaining that he goes by a new name. Many of the important people, like leaders and generals, were women, as were three out of the four main POVs.
I was super happy with how everything ended up being resolved in the end. There was one main romance that I really enjoyed and another that was kind of a budding romance that I also really enjoyed.
I had heard that this book was very anime-inspired, but I don’t know if I would go that far. I did catch a few Fullmetal Alchemist reference, which I thoroughly appreciated, but other than that, I didn’t think it resembled any anime I’ve seen.
Also, there were so many touching dog moments in this book that I want this to be renamed Steel Dog Saga! I love dogs.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It explored a lot of different themes, like occupation, revenge, and forgiveness that I really enjoyed. It didn’t get a full five stars from me because the beginning was a little rough and the plot was a little convoluted.