REVIEW: The Night Ends with Fire by K. X. Song

Last Updated on July 4, 2024

In The Night Ends with Fire, K. X. Song’s dark adult fantasy debut, inspired by the legend of Mulan, Hai Meilin takes control of her destiny. In an attempt to escape her opium-ridden and abusive father, as well as the arranged marriage forced upon her with an equally abusive nobleman, she takes matters into her own hands and enlists for the war under the guise of her father’s ‘bastard son’. Upon enlisting, Meilin finds her stride. While keeping her secret is a source of constant anxiety, she flourishes without the restrictions previously forced upon her. She develops friendships and camaraderie amongst her platoon, a budding infatuation with her commander and training partner Prince Sky and later, a complicated bond with an enemy Prince. As the war of the Three Kingdoms edges closer, so do the voices in her head. Meilin is confronted by Qinglong, a sea dragon spirit connected to the jade necklace her late mother had left for her. Through dreams, visions and hallucinations, Qinglong offers Meilin unending power – but at what cost?

Night Ends With Fire UK CoverMeilin’s story begins similar to many female fantasy protagonists – put in a situation that essentially causes them to snap and take matters into their own hands. As the story progresses, so does her character. In assuming the role of Hai Ren, she does not abandon her femininity, but instead embraces the parts of her that were suppressed by the men around her; her rage, her ability to fight, and her want for power. She says,

“I needed to prove that, I as a woman could be better than the rest of them. That I too could belong. That I too could be free.”

Meilin’s rage was so potent, to the point that I had to question where her thoughts started, and where Qinglong’s ended. The girl at the beginning of the book is vastly different to the one at the end, which made Meilin wildly entertaining to read about, particularly in the second half of the book.

The first half of the novel fell flat for me, and both the tone and the dialogue felt overwhelmingly Young Adult, despite the book being marketed as Adult. But do not be fooled, the book takes a much darker turn in the second half, affording it the label of a dark Adult fantasy. The grimdark aspects are thus heavier in this half. I would recommend The Night Ends with Fire to newcomers of the grimdark genre, as it certainly eases you in. Once I finished, I felt the sense that the writing essentially grew with Meilin; she entered the army unsure of herself, and unaware of her potential. At the end, I could see the power she’s able to hold, and I was constantly at the edge of my seat, waiting to see what she does with it. We do love a woman scorned.

The Night Ends with Fire is a fairly faithful retelling of Mulan, paralleling with a lot of the main components and scenes from the Disney adaptation we are all so familiar with. The difference, however, is that Meilin’s actions are not driven by honour. She is fuelled by ambition, and the desire to make a name for herself against those that society have deemed her lesser than. K. X. Song acknowledges that the story centres on the question: What does our ambition cost us? To which I am intrigued to see how far our protagonist is willing to go, to get what she wants. Hai Meilin is slowly climbing the ranks of my favourite angry, messy and powerful female main characters in fiction, and I am so excited to see the chaos she ensues in the next instalment.

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Saberin C

Saberin C

Saberin lives in London and works in publishing. More often than not, you can find her with her nose in a fantasy book or doing whatever it takes to get her cats attention! You can find her on @sabisreading on instagram, where she posts all about her current reads, reviews, fictional fixations and general ramblings on life (with the occasional picture of Kiara, the meanest cat to ever exist).

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