I never stop counting my lucky stars that I’m a member of the Squad Pod Collective – a group of friends formed organically on Twitter who have formed a book blogging community. Not only are they lovely women who support each other daily they are very talented writers and book reviewers. Each month we have a book club pick and I’ve been lucky enough to have time at the end of the year to read this stunning fantasy duology back to back and I’m so glad I did. I loved escaping into the clouds in Sue Lynn Tann’s first instalment, Daughter of the Moon Goddess because it lured me into a richly evocative world of goddesses, monsters, warriors and Chinese mythology. I’m so in awe of this author’s imagination and I was fascinated to see the next part of Xingyin’s journey. The first book has really set the scene for this sequel in terms of the relationships and character developments that are immediately picked up where we left them last time. We meet Xingyin, now reunited with her mother and living contentedly back on the moon. However, this is only a short moment of peace because there is a power shift in the Celestial Kingdom and Xingyin is forced to flee from her home again and defend the realm.
The author’s vivid imagination can be seen on every page, with such lush description that I fully believed in this incredible world she builds, but her attention to detail doesn’t stop at the setting. Once again she takes her heroine through ordeals and personal choices that build real character growth. Her journey is an emotional one and her growing maturity is shown in the tough decisions she makes both in her quest and in her personal life. I felt that the romance angle was more successful this time, with all characters in the love triangle showing more maturity. This could be just my age and experience though and young adult readers may well identify strongly with the set up of this storyline in the first book. Here she has to face betrayal and I was caught up in this powerful dynamic that threatens to tip over into enemies, rather than potential lovers. Her sadness and conflicted feelings over Wenzhi’s betrayal work well and he’s still very much part of the story. In my opinion he brings that spark of chemistry too. He really wants to make things right with Xingyin and shows this by devotedly sticking by her side to be there whenever she needs him. There is less instant chemistry between Xingyin and Liwei, but there is strong friendship and loyalty. He shows he is willing to defy his parents for her which removes the main obstacle to their potential romance. The mental push and pull between these very polarised relationships was definitely more engaging this time and I became more and more interested to see who, if anyone, she would choose.
The pace of the novel did ebb and flow, with a quieter middle section followed by a helter -skelter rush towards the conclusion. The battle sequences are incredibly effective because they feel dynamic and there’s genuine peril – characters do die here. The decision to make this a duology was a clever one. As the novel rushed towards it’s conclusion I worried that it might feel jumbled or sudden, but everything worked and I came away feeling satisfied. In many ways The Heart of the Sun Warrior worked better for me than the first novel, taking the story to new places with higher stakes and life-changing consequences. There was more tension, a faster pace and a few twists and turns to surprise the reader. As mentioned the romance seemed better worked out here too, but everything Sue Lynn Tan did well in the first novel is maintained. We didn’t lose any of the luscious description and lyrical language that she does so well, drawing the reader into her magical world. As with the first novel though, it was the heroine’s self-growth that I enjoyed most and those life lessons extended to the other characters too, who go on their own inner journey. Of course there’s the strength and courage you would expect from warriors, but that conflict also brought lessons in loss and coping with grief. Each character had to practice forgiveness and learn what it means to give unconditional love. These deeper emotional elements really elevated this book for me and along with the strength of Chang’e and Xingyin’s mother/daughter relationship, they give a very magical world it’s human heart. Sue Lynn Tan should be incredibly proud of these debut novels and her beautiful, poetic writing style. What finishes these books off beautifully are those stunning covers, both of which would look perfect as framed book posters on my bedroom wall (if anyone’s listening).
Published 10th November 2022 by Harper Voyager
Meet The Author
Sue Lynn Tan writes stories inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. After devouring every fable she could find in the library, she discovered fantasy books, spending much of her childhood lost in magical worlds.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is her debut, the first in the Celestial Kingdom duology – a fantasy of immortals, magic and love, inspired by the beloved legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e. Its sequel, Heart of the Sun Warrior, is also out now.
When not writing or reading, she enjoys exploring the hills, lakes, and temples around her home. She is also grateful to be within reach of bubble tea and spicy food, that she unfortunately cannot cook.
Find her on Instagram and Twitter @SuelynnTan, or on her website http://www.suelynntan.com