My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is a fine line to draw when writing fantasy in English based on Asian history– you can either bombard the reader with historical detail and names and such and risk being pedantic or confusing, or you can give just enough historical detail to the fantasy story that it makes everything ring true and also be slighly educational.
In this start to the Dragons Songs Sage, Kang actually manages to walk that line fairly well throughout his epic fantasy-esque story about political machinations, assassinations, and musical magic in an alternate ancient China. I loved how the references to things like time, menstruation, etc were authentic sounding euphemisms like “Heaven’s Dew.” I loved how Kang wove in the presence of elves and orcs and dwarves in a totally believable way. It could have been incredibly jarring to be thinking of Tolkien during this story, but especially the ninja-like Moquan character Jie, who is half elf, makes this a seamless addition.
Sometimes, however, I was a bit off put by many references to gibbous moons and waxing moons, and there was sometimes a lot of things taken-for-granted by characters (like fear of a dragon none of them had ever seen in their lifetime, or Princess Kaiya just non-chalantly risking life and limb just to learn music) that was a bit hard to suspend disbelief on, but it’s a fun adventure.
And the action scenes, especially those Moquan-involved ones, are superb. I studied Tai Jutsu just long enough to know when things like breaking elbows over one’s shoulders in books ring true and when they seem wrong. These action scenes are fun, technically spot on, and believable.
Excellent start to an Alternate China based fantasy focusing more on action and politics.