Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao
From the acclaimed author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns comes a fantastical new tale of darkness and love, in which magical bonds are stronger than blood.
Will love break the spell? After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician’s apprentice who loves her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao’s prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.
Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest’s Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that’s been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?
In Song of the Crimson Flower, there are two families that are tied together. Lan’s family and Tam’s family have been close since the kids were young. Their parents decided that they would be a good match. After all, Tam was from a family equal to Lan’s. They are betrothed, but Tam won’t commit to a date. Lan really only sees him at night. He comes by boat and plays the flute for her. He writes her sweet letters. So it’s very confusing why this perfect guy isn’t quite so perfect.
Boa is an orphan that went from home to home before finally being taken in by the Huynh family. He became an apprentice to the physician at only 19 years old. Bao has a secret though. He is in love with Lan. Bao is the one who has been sending letters and playing the music. He’s been in love with Lan since they were young. But he’s painfully shy and awkward around her. Also, his “family” already paired Tam up with Lan. After all, Bao is a poor orphan.
Things blow up pretty quickly when Lan finds out that Tam isn’t in love with her. She says some terrible things to Bao and he takes off. He sort of jokes about going to the River Witch’s home to have his memories erased. Because of that thought, his boat brought him right to her. The River Witch is angry about who she believe Bao to be. She wants to hurt someone who hurt her, so she cursed him. Someone has to love him before the next full moon or he’ll live the rest of his life inside his flute. Bao ends up back by Lan’s and she comes out to apologize. He tells her what happened and she feels horrible for the things she said. So Lan decides to leave with Bao and help him get to the Gray City where he is told his family is from. The Gray City is on the verge of war over a substance called black spice. They say it’s a very addictive drug that needs to be stopped. Not only is Bao in danger of losing the life he has, but they put themselves at risk, walking right into the beginning of a war.
I really enjoyed the setting and characters in this book. I appreciate that it brings up addiction to something that relieves pain. But what I loved most was Bao. He was the sweetest boy and deserved nothing but happiness. There were a couple relationships that I really loved in this book. Lan made me angry, but she did grow on me after awhile.
I gave this book 4 stars. Thank you to Penguin Teen for my review copy.
Warnings: Blood magic/cutting/draining, verbal abuse from a guardian, war, addiction, a deadly disease, and poor being treated terribly by the people in a status above them.
Have you read Song of the Crimson Flower? Did you read Julie’s other books?