Hello friends! First and foremost, guess who finished their exams? Ah after more than 2 months of disappearance preparing for them, I’m back, and I’m thrilled to bring to you my blog tour stop of Jade Fire Gold, one of my most anticipated releases that I’m an #OwnVoices reviewer for as a Singaporean-Chinese. Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours for organising this. ❤
JADE FIRE GOLD by June CL Tan
Genre(s): Fantasy | Age: Young Adult
Published: 12 October 2021 | Read: 1 October 2021
No. of Pages: 464
Trigger Warnings ↴self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic), child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting), parent death (implied, off-page), character deaths, mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence), mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia, alcohol consumption
In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.
Thank you to Caffeine Tours and Netgalley for an ARC of JFG in exchange for a sincere review. All quotes in the review are from the ARC and may differ upon publication.
More book information ↴US Cover: GUWEIZ // UK Cover: Aaron Munday // Publisher: HarperTeen
It began with a girl and a sword, and it will end with a girl and her sword. Once again, the gods have shown no mercy in their humour.
If I were to describe Jade Fire Gold in a single word, it would be dramatic.
In an empire that has a rather unforgiving stance towards magic, Jade Fire Gold follows Altan, a rightful heir to the throne, on a path of vengeance whose path intersects with that of Ahn, one who is struggling financially, trying her best to provide for her ailing grandmother.
Jade Fire Gold was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021, because of the pitching (go read the synopsis and try can’t tell me it doesn’t sound epic, you can’t convince me), and more so because it was by an author who grew up in Singapore (the homeland, of yours truly). Like many, I’ve grown up reading the works of White authors, these past few years, have diversified my reading by picking up the works of BIPOC authors. It was such a vastly different but even more meaningful experience, however, until now though I’ve read many books by Chinese authors which I have resonated with, I’ve yet to encounter any by Singaporean authors, until Land of Sand and Song (which I read in September) and now Jade Fire Gold, which made me immediately keen to love JFG.
The gods were cruel, and men were merely puppets in a grand play staged for the amusement of bored mortals.
The element I loved the most about Jade Fire Gold would be the atmosphere. It takes inspiration from Chinese mythology, as well as 武侠 (wuxia) and 仙侠 (xianxia) films. For those reading that are unfamiliar, wuxia is a genre of Chinese dramas which follow the adventures of martial artists, while xianxia is wuxia but with fantastical elements such as gods. The high stakes, the chosen one trope, a quest to find some special artifact, the prophecies, some celestial influence in JFG felt so reminiscent of these 武侠 (wuxia) and 仙侠 (xianxia) films that are such big influences in Chinese culture, and I loved it. Another small nuance I loved was the theme of family, sacrifice and duty in Jade Fire Gold, with duty and revenge because of family, being a great driving force behind both Ahn and Atlan. There was a deep sense of filial piety: xiao (孝), one of the most, if not, the most important Chinese virtue ingrained in the story that I resonated with, something that I enjoyed a lot in These Violent Delights too!
Woven into the lore and myths in the vibrant world of Jade Fire Gold, are traces of Chinese mythology which I loved picking up, for example the “peach of immortality”. One that I realised only after reading the book thanks to a review on GR was the Mandate of Heaven philosophy (天命), a political philosophy that explains dynastial rule as well as why emperors are deeply revered “sons of heaven”. Heaven itself gives its blessings to the ruler, and this is deeply tied in with the land, evident through how famine, natural disasters were seen as emperors losing the Mandate of Heaven, and in turn losing the “approval” to rule. When a new ruler gains the Mandate of Heaven, a new dynasty begins, as dictated by the Chinese saying “成者为王，败者为寇” (the victor becomes king, and the loser is banished). Ah but back to Jade Fire Gold, the Mandate of Heaven accounted for the people’s loyal devotion to the rulers, and more intriguingly, how magic was tied to the land and kept in balance.
History is written by its victims.
Another thing I truly appreciated about Jade Fire Gold was its effort to talk about the themes of empire, history and fate. Coupled with the political intrigue, JFG did delve a bit into manipulations of history to divide and shape perspectives as a tool of empire, another book that did that well would be Descendant of the Crane!
Till now, this review isn’t like my normal ones, more so touching on the cultural aspect, and less on the actual plot devices and characterisation as I felt that those lacked ardour. And hence, while sharing how I resonated with the way my own culture was fleshed out in Jade Fire Gold, I would also like to spend a bit of thought in responding to some other #OwnVoices reviewers response towards Jade Fire Gold as one myself. All these are my own opinions, everyone is entitled to theirs, I’m open to discussion!
Some pointed out that it was wrong for one character to be portrayed as putting chopsticks in her hair bun. When I got to that bit, I was a bit “weirded out”, because friends, do you put forks in your hair? I understand the author meant it to be part of the ancient China aesthetic along with all the outfits like hanfu that characters wear. However, there has been feedback that some find it culturally offensive, with chopsticks in one hair being a common stereotype found in Western media.
Honestly, for me, I’m at a loss of how to respond. On one hand, I don’t feel that it is cultural appropriation as a Singaporean-Chinese, merely that in the author’s attempt to recreate the aesthetic she was aiming for, to make a move that may not make much sense to some readers (because modernly, who the heck puts chopsticks in their hair when it’s a eating utensil). I’m not defending anyone, I think that this arises because a Chinese identity isn’t a monolith, everyone’s experience and perceptions are different, especially with race and ethnicity something that can take roots around the world. Something that may be seen as disrespectful to some Chinese, may seem as an Ancient China aesthetic to some, and to others may seem to be just a meaningless addition to the book. I don’t discourage anyone from reading Jade Fire Gold, in fact it was a story that resonated with me from an #OwnVoices point of view so I would definitely recommend it, just be aware of the discussion with regards to the representation in the book.
Update 15 October 7AM SGT: June CL Tan, the author, had a little chat with me, and she explained her rationale behind this, which I found illuminating. The hair accessories characters wear are called 发簪(fazan), a kind of Chinese style hairpin. HOwever, there are custom made chopsticks as weapons that are not meant as utensils. Though I’ve watched my fair share of wuxia, I never encountered them being wuxia, and the author wanted to personify this through Tang Wei’s outfit. I’m heartened by her intention to decenter the White stereotype of Chinese ladies putting chopsticks in their hair, with many white women jumping aboard the bandwagon and doing so without any knowledge. I was also intrigued to find out that it is considered a tred by Chinese women? Haha I have to go read up more, but after hearing from the author this definitely added another important layer to the argument.
Wishing is pointless. Praying is for fools. I am the only one who can control my fate.
If you’ve just scrolled here to hear my final thoughts, I would appreciate if you could read the section on my response to some #OwnVoices comments which called the author out for disrespect of Chinese culture.
However, as a whole Jade Fire Gold still resonated with me so much, it was so heartening to see a Singaporean author bring Chinese culture into the western dominated world of books. A solid debut, I’m excited to see where June CL Tan goes next!
rating // ★★★½
Other Jade Fire Gold content you should check out: Mesal’s review | Kashvi’s Q&A with the Author | Veronica’s spotlight
About the Author
June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel.