Title: Songs of Insurrection
Author: JC Kang
Publisher: Dragonstone Press
Publication date: March 12, 2021
One Sentence Summary: When she meets the foreign prince Hardeep, Princess Kaiya wants nothing more than to become a Dragon Singer to save his kingdom, but little does she know she might need the talent for her own country as rebellion brews to the North.
First of all, I really liked the cover. I was quite excited to learn this is also a Chinese-inspired fantasy as I’ve been trying to push myself to read more Asian and Asian-inspired books. Being also musically inclined, I loved that this book involved music and Kaiya trying to become a legendary Dragon Singer. This book seemed to have everything I was looking for, but the execution was a little lacking.
A Brewing Rebellion
Sixteen-year-old Princess Kaiya is on her way to meet a potential husband when she’s diverted to meet the foreign prince Hardeep. Upon their meeting, the two become quite taken with each other and Kaiya learns there’s a possibility she can help save his country if only she can learn to become a legendary Dragon Singer.
But, while Kaiya runs around the city with a prince she shouldn’t be with, Jie and Tian, members of the supposedly fictional Black Lotus Clan, are busy sniffing out whiffs of a rebellion. All does not seem well and all the threads seem to be leading to one place: the one place Kaiya should be nowhere near.
In theory, I really liked the idea of what Songs of Insurrection was about. It kind of reminded me of some of the Chinese dramas my parents watch, but with dragons and magic added in. In actuality, Kaiya definitely felt very young and sex-obsessed (as a matter of fact, sex-related things was a running thread throughout the book) and the story as a whole felt kind of weak. Interesting though it may be, I felt it was stretched out a little too far and required a little too much willing suspension of disbelief.
There are two main storylines: Kaiya’s, and Jie and Tian’s. Kaiya’s was the prominent one, and also the less interesting one. It follows a girl who falls in love at first sight with a man she cannot be with, but who will do anything for him. Sure, they had some fun and interesting and dangerous times, but, overall, it was lackluster. Jie and Tian’s storyline, though, was quite fascinating as they were hunting down clues to a growing rebellion and definitely getting their hands dirty and bloody. They had all the real fun, and I loved reading how they put things together, though it also seemed a little too easy. Still, the rebellion side of the story was the more interesting part. Fortunately, the two storylines collide at the end, making the story much more bearable.
One Note Characters
Princess Kaiya is, by far, the main character of Songs of Insurrection. Most of the story is told from her perspective. She comes across as young and naive, but also quite forceful in her need to be useful and do something good and honorable. At the same time, I disliked how obsessed she became with sex, how obsessed she was with Hardeep. It was so overdone that it felt artificial. I found it rather interesting that the male author chose to tell the story through a teenage female. Kaiya lacked the complexity typically found in women (which was also true of all of the female characters) and I became disgusted by just how sex-starved and sex-obsessed she was. Yes, I know I’ve mentioned it, but it really is that prevalent and annoying in the book.
As a matter of fact, all of the characters lacked complexity. They all felt one note, as though they had a single role in life and that was all they did. There was nothing deeper to any of them. Even the mastermind behind it all could be seen a mile away. The romance between some of the characters felt forced and completely unnecessary, and only served to weaken my opinion of them. The concern Tian had for Kaiya was really the only thing that touched me. Whether it was love or friendship I didn’t really care because it seemed to be the only time one of the characters felt something real for another.
Overall, I found the characters to be quite simple and a little annoying. Most of them had a weird sex on the brain thing going on, which really took away from the story, almost as though the energy was being diverted from a potentially complex plot in order to focus on how sex-obsessed the characters were.
Songs of Insurrection is set in a fictional Asia and is mostly Chinese-inspired. This was my favorite part of the book. I loved the world and how it explored fantastical versions of China and India. Of course, most of it was set in Cathay, the fictional version of China, but there were still some tidbits of Asian-inspired settings outside of Cathay.
While I didn’t necessarily feel like I was walking in an Asian world, I did love that every garden and every hall had it’s own name. As confusing as they could be, it did tickle me and remind me China. I also liked that many of the customs are taken from reality, that Kaiya was bound by what women were and were not allowed to do, that there was pressure to conceive an heir, and all those fun Chinese things. I felt it was the only real thing that led to any real tension in the book as Kaiya had to fight against the ties binding her.
Even though I didn’t care for the simplistic characters and plot, I did really love the world. Being Chinese, it was nice to feel like I was surrounded by many of the things I was familiar with and had grown up around. It reminded me of some of the Chinese dramas my parents watch and tell me about. Needless to say, the world was quite comforting and familiar to me.
A Fairly Simple Fantasy
I really wanted to love Songs of Insurrection. It started out on a strong foot with me, but then it gradually weakened. By the time Kaiya became sex-obsessed, I was kind of done with it. The characters, initially fresh and interesting, took a too simple turn and the plot felt too divided and lacked complexity. The world was the highlight for me, but it served as too strong a background for the story to the point where I have a hard time recalling parts of the story without the setting. Overall, not a terrible book, but definitely on the easy and simple side.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.