PH Blog Tour: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao (Review+Giveaway)

I have immensely adored Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (FoTL) so I am more than happy to be part of the crew of Filipino bloggers to promote it’s sequel, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (KoBP).

Kudos to Erika of The Nocturnal Fey and Rafael of The Royal Polar Bear Reads who organized this blog tour and who also hosted a successful Twitter party last October 27. Check the hashtag #FPBChat to see what went down with that online event graced by Julie C. Dao’s presence herself.

But first, let’s check what Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is all about.

About Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn't want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won't soon forget.

Fans of Stealing Snow, Red Queen, and The Wrath and the Dawn will hungrily devour this page-turning read.

Series: Rise of the Empress #2
Publisher: Philomel Books
ISBN: 1524738336
Genre: Fantasy, Retellings, Young Adult
Publication date:   November 6th 2018
Purchase links: Amazon Kobo | iBooks | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble
Also locally available at National Bookstore: Hardcover | Trade Paperback

About Julie

Julie C. Dao ( is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

Find out more: Website | FacebookTwitter | Instagram | Goodreads
My Thoughts:

I ended my review for FoTL hoping and waiting for a worthy adversary for the evil Empress that is Xifeng. And now with the release of KoBP, Jade of the Great Forest finds the courage to step up and lay her claim for the throne. So I thought that it’s only fitting that for the purposes of reviewing KoBP, I would also bring up and talk about FoTL and do a sort book standoff between the two.

Take a moment to look at these pretties side by side:

Now let’s get ready to rumble!!!

On worldbuilding
Geographically speaking, KoBP upped it's game! FoTL brought us to the bustling Imperial City and the inner palace of the Kingdom of Great Forest. I noted in my review then how I hoped that the next book would bring out the other kingdoms as well. And KoBP did not disappoint. We were given glimpses of the other kingdoms as Jade and her crew pass them by on her quest for the five magical relics left by the dragon gods who created their world.

In FoTL, we learn intimately about the scheming and politicking of the court ladies and the eunuchs inside the palace. KoBP zoomed out to the larger picture and showed that Xifeng’s ways of establishing control through sheer terror is a not sustainable way of governing the people.

In FoTL, Xifeng is aided by dark magic on her rise to the ranks of Imperial Court. In KoBP, we learned about the good magic of this world. We learned that a mother’s love is a powerful magic that could transcend even death. We get to know about the five magical relics which if united by someone with dragon’s blood could summon a host of a powerful army sent by the gods themselves. And then there’s this cloak stitched with a detailed map of the FengLu empire that could also give helpful hints and clues to Jade and her crew. (As a potterhead, I recognize the influence of some Potterverse magic stuff here like the power of a mother’s love, chasing after the the deathly hollows and the marauder’s map.)

Xifeng versus Jade
Now I want to make it clear that this is not a case of pitting a woman against another woman. This is just me assessing my feelings for these two equally strong characters. Let’s proceed.

Both FoTL and KoBP placed their protagonists in humble beginnings. Xifeng is a peasant who ran away from her abusive aunt to chase a foretold destiny of greatness. Jade spent her childhood banished from the castle living among the monks with no royalty treatment. At the beginning of KoBP, Jade is being summoned by Xifeng to the palace for some sinister plotting in the guise of celebrating Jade’s 18th birthday. Backstory-wise, FoTL started off stronger than KoBP. This is just me but I wished that Jade was not aware of her lineage at first and the she’ll have some Hagrid-like character knock on the monastery doors to reveal to her, “Yer a princess, Jade!” Okay, no? Eh, that’s just probably my potterhead heart talking.

Xifeng’s motivation is driven by her hunger for power. She is an unstoppable force who did not mind committing murders and eating bloody hearts just to get the throne. Jade’s motivation is for a far nobler cause. Upon seeing the citizens of the empire greatly suffer from Xifeng’s tyranny, she reluctantly accepts the the task of challenging Xifeng for the throne. I enjoy descent to madness and reluctant hero tropes so both are wins for me.

Just like the verse inscribed in a painting in the palace, Jade is a mouse to Xifeng’s lion. I am more drawn by the charisma of Xifeng’s personality. But honestly, we all have that grandiose image of ourselves that are often far from who we really are. In real life, I am more like Jade. Secluded for a long time in a monastery, Jade navigates the wild world through her knowledge of the folktales passed down to her by her nursemaid, Amah. And I am so Jade in that I feel so little sometimes and everyday is about finding the courage to face a cruel world, if you know what I mean?! Like Jade, I also try to expand my limited perspective and experience by relying on the stories that I have read from books. I think I like Xifeng more than Jade but I definitely can relate more to Jade than to Xifeng.

Wei versus Koichi
It’s time for a battle between the love interests. Wei is a strong, loyal and all but I didn’t like him in FoTL when he showed these acts of displaying ownership of Xifeng. On the other hand, Koichi is a sweet cinnamon roll that I want for myself. He is first and foremost a good and supportive friend to Jade. KoBP might be short of six more actual dwarves but I think one dwarf with a big as heart as Koichi is good enough.

Oh in case you're wondering, Wei definitely comes back here in KoBP so watch out for that!

Rise to power
Xifeng sacrificed a lot just to get to her throne. She abandoned people not without great sadness, like her lover Wei and her friend Shiro, when they do not serve her interests anymore. Yes, she was aided by dark magic but she still has to do the thinking and the dirty work. On the other hand, Jade emerges from a sheltered life to chase after magical relics who will aid her in the bid for the throne. The magical relics just felt too convenient for me. I know that Jade did the dirty work, too. Man, she encountered a lot of hardships like almost dying of thirst in the desert and being poisoned by an apple (Tee-hee, you should know that this is coming, hello Snow White retelling!) but I feel that Xifeng suffered more and clawed her way up harder than Jade.

Jade as the only living person with the dragon blood in her veins and is the only person who can unite the magical relics and summon an army from the dragon gods came off as too special snowflake-y for me. I thought that Xifeng had already smashed the crap that only royalty should sit on the throne. Maybe it’s just my pleb heart but I like Xifeng’s rise to power narrative more than Jade’s.

Lessons learned
You know how I always want to pick up lessons from stories and both FoTL and KoBP is a gold mine of great themes and messages that are all too important.

Both FoTL and KoBP showed that there are different types of female strength. Xifeng’s strength is mostly in her beauty and ambition. Jade’s strength is in her wisdom. And Wren’s (Aaargh, how dare me for almost forgetting to mention Wren. I love her, she is the funny one!) and The Crimson Army’s strength is in their brute fighting skills.

I realize now after reading the complete duology that there is nothing wrong with Xifeng cultivating her looks to harness power. What was wrong was the murky moral path that she chose and the way that she used terror to govern the Feng Lu empire. Xifeng is also a cautionary tale that we must never abandon our true friends for ambition.

Like I said, Jade’s fondness for folktales resonates to my own bookworm heart. This is a quote from the book that I really like: “Pulling out the threads of another’s story and applying them to your own life is the mark of a queen.” There is this mindset that being meek is weak and KoBP proved that crap wrong. I also love how in the book Jade recognized her insecurity and realized that she needed help. Unlike Xifeng, she learned how to accept help from her friends. Because you know sometimes in real life, asking for help is the most courageous thing that you can do.

I am amazed how fantasy books can reflect our real lives. The Rise of the Empire duology is such an experience that you should not miss. Personally, it's a gem that I was able to see myself in Jade. Reading about someone like me who is able to overthrow an evil empire gives me hope that I can also conquer my own real-life battles.

Tour Schedule

Don't forget to follow the tour and hop on these blogs on their designated stops:
November 5th:
Erika - The Nocturnal Fey
Rafael - The Royal Polar Bear Reads
Soleil - Queen Soleil

November 6th: 
Jennilyn - Rurouni Jenni Reads
Erica Mae - Living a Hundred Lives
Jen - Jen D Bibliophile

November 7th: 
Camille - Camillea Reads
Bianca - The Ultimate Fangirl
Vivian - Vanilla Angel Pages

November 8th: 
Myrth - Cliste Bella
Jenny - Levicorpvs Blog
Dani - dmcireads

November 9th: 
Shaine - Wanderer in Neverland
Leslie - Bibliophilekid

November 10th: 
Joel - Descendant of Poseidon Reads
Jon - Wander with Jon
Karina - Afire Pages

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I'd love to hear from you! 
Have you read the Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and what were your thoughts? What are you most excited about Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix? Which other Snow White re-tellings are your favorites?

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