Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult
Content warnings: death, xenophobia
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: an adventure steeped in Asian myth and legend, spiced with magic, with notes of romance and interspecies conflict
I’d spent an entire winter folding paper cranes, hoping to gain the gods’ ears and break my brothers’ curse. But the gods had been silent for centuries. I no longer trusted them to listen.
I was extremely excited to read this book, as its predecessor, Six Crimson Cranes, had set up a fantastic world and premise for us to explore further. I had rated SCC a full 5/5 stars on Storygraph and had extensive Discord chats with friends about how much I was anticipating the release of The Dragon’s Promise. But like with any duology, I was a little wary about how plot threads would be resolved and whether the conclusion would do the series justice, let alone make sense. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised that it was much more than I bargained for (but who expected returning a cursed dragon pearl to its rightful owner to be a linear storyline, right?).
The first few chapters of the book retain the tension and conflict and uncertainty that we were left with at the end of SCC, which does an excellent job of literally throwing you into the deep end along with Shiori. They don’t shy away from continuously proving that Shiori is still a little firecracker who has a tendency to get tunnel vision. And I love this book for that; she messes up as much as a human looking through a human-centric lens would when dealing with other creatures – trying to gauge where we have control and where having the upper hand is possible. She has to learn to recognise other creatures as beings with emotions, wisdom and thoughts without assuming that they can be controlled/subdued by a human (as a lot of high fantasy often tends to). Her wit from SCC did not leave her, adding some humorous moments in the midst of her quest to save her kingdom, and she’s a very entertaining character to follow.
I waved up and down at the ceremonial dress I was still wearing, but Elang and Seryu both gave me blank stares. Dolts. So I made a show of kicking up my skirt, embedded with so many pearls it looked like I’d robbed a school of oysters.
This was enhanced by Lim’s writing. I. LOVE. HER WRITING. I fell in love with how she used imagery in SCC, and I’m happy to report that this has not left in TDP. Each new character introduced in TDP has so much flavour, and there ended up being so many different perspectives that the world itself feels fleshed out. The banter in this series is great. Fraying and blossoming relationships alike are written so compellingly through description and dialogue – even lines that sound like they could be cliches felt thoughtful. The symbolism and stories drawn from Asian mythology also carry on throughout both the language and plot in TDP, which made me extremely happy.
Contrary to what the title may lead you to assume, TDP does not have a lot of Seryu in it. Going into this book, I was somewhat afraid that Lim would try to drag out a love triangle and make Seryu’s whole shtick ‘the immortal being that fell in love with a mortal’. I was scared because most duologies that focus on only one love interest in the first book tend to try and overcompensate and sacrifice plot to develop the second love interest. We avoid that here! When Seryu’s involvement came to an end, I was left anticipating where the rest of this book would go. I can’t say much without giving away important plot points, but the places Shiori goes and people she meets do give her opportunities to continue growing and tie up loose ends.
On the topic of Seryu, he is genuinely one of the highlights. Diving into his world distinguishes the culture and hierarchy of his kind to that of the mortal realm, giving him more depth than the cliche immortal being’s main traits: 1) ethereally gorgeous and 2) being inexplicably, unconditionally and irrevocably in love with the human main character. His feelings for Shiori are communicated extremely well through his actions, but he retains his pride as a dragon through and through. The first chapters where Shiori is rather helpless and clueless in Seryu’s world feel less like an opportunity to present her as a human that can conquer or outwit beasts and more like a way to showcase Seryu’s character and world. I loved him until the end because a love triangle is never forced upon the reader. Lim gives us space to appreciate both Takkan and Seryu in the duology AND respect Shiori’s decision on how to carry both of those relationships forward.
"I’d rather choke on seaweed than watch you and that horse-trough boy make fish eyes at each other."
This book does have its shortcomings though. Duologies are always tricky because pacing is a difficult thing to plot out between two books. The plot is packed, so you’re not left wanting for more – if anything, you wish you could have moments for Shiori to breathe between journey phases. And I get that that’s the point – she doesn’t have the luxury of taking a break as the looming threat of a crafty demon threatens to break free . . . Yet I wish Lim didn’t sometimes gloss over her fatigue or her fear or her distress with a convenient coma or sleep. A lot of the plot threads end up resolving out of the sheer convenience of coincidental timing.
Unfortunately, the pacing takes its toll on some character development as well. Bandur as the ‘main villain’ pales in comparison to the compelling Raikama in SCC and instead presents as a more traditional one-dimensional bad guy. While this makes sense in context, I did find myself more intrigued by the unpredictability of antagonists with less page time. Another slightly frustrating point was the level of cooperation exhibited by the people in Shiori’s camp. I get it, in the band of heroes against the nay-sayers, it makes sense for most of their perspectives to align. But the amiability of Takkan and her brothers felt too unnatural at times, as they tended to defer to her judgement without protest, no questions asked. The lack of impactful/high-stakes conflict within her closest circle did unfortunately feel like a convenient way of progressing the plot quickly, so in some ways, I wish this series was a trilogy so we could have maintained the standard of character development shown in SCC. Regardless, I think that the amount of healthy communication in Shiori’s romantic relationships in TDP gets a huge plus for being refreshing to see in a YA novel.
"You are the light that makes my lantern shine."
The Dragon’s Promise is a satisfying finale to Shiori’s journey, full of legend, myth and memory. It elaborates on Raikama’s impact on Shiori beyond death and her continual resourcefulness and desire to save the people she loves in spite of her (many) antagonists. Its exploration of ostracism in all communities begs the question as to whether belonging is something you’re born with, something you earn, or something you have to extend to others. In spite of a few bumps in the road with pacing, the plot content and characters make this VERY worth your while, and I yet again found it hard to predict how some parts would end. I highly encourage fans of SCC to return to this world to get more than just closure. I was hooked from beginning to end and rate it a solid 4/5 stars.
Yes, I will be adding the UK hardcover edition to my shelf when it comes out.
The mountains ceased their trembling; the earth went still once more. And the sun slipped out of a pocket of smoke, gold and radiant as a coin, reminding us that it had been there all along.