Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is the start of a new series by Amélie Wen Zhao. An epic story in the crossover territory between YA and adult fantasy, strongly influenced by Zhao’s Chinese background and multicultural upbringing and full of immersive prose, this will whisk you away and immerse you completely.
Both Lan and Zen, the main characters are outsiders in their community. Lan used to have a different name – one given to her by her mother – but now goes by what the Elantian colonizers named her. Zen has access to a magic believed to be lost, rumoured to be drawn from demons – and highly forbidden by the Elantians. And fate has brought them together when Zen saved Lan’s life…
Set at the intersection of colonialization and cultural interaction, Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is about communication more than anything else. The two main characters are from very different backgrounds, both with secrets of their own to boot. Yes, this is a fantasy about magic, destiny and the power to end the world as they know it, but really, it’s about two people, navigating the difficulties posed by intercultural communication and secrets.
The prose is gorgeous, at times flowery, though broken by spry, emotional reactions from the characters that break through what might otherwise seem overwrought. That contrast allows the magic to work, to create an immersive world that draws the reader in, but keeps breaking its own spell, showing off the discordance the characters themselves experience. It doesn’t mean that the story and language flows less, it creates a sort of additional rhythm, one that isn’t quite as predictable and fits so well with the themes of identity and fitting into a place that isn’t truly your own. I love noticing details about prose that seem like parallels to plot and theme – it makes a work stand out so much. Having read the author’s Blood Heir previously, her growth is clear and I look forward to following along on her journey and seeing where it goes in the future.
A fantasy novel full of forbidden magic, secrets and an oppressive colonial power, with secrets to navigate and a complicated balance to strike fits our parameters of Grimdark well. There are difficult moral decisions to be made aplenty and I found that this will have great appeal to readers of dark fantasy. It would also be a great choice for Grimdark loving parents to hand to their teens – indoctrinate them young and bring them to the (grim)dark side! As a whole, I really enjoyed Song of Silver, Flame Like Night and can’t wait to read the second book in the duology.