And Break the Pretty Kings by Lena Jeong
Magpie, pb, £9.19
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
Mirae had always known she would be Queen one day, had always known she would have to undergo the three trials and take over the sacred duty of protecting the kingdom with her ancestral magic. She just hadn’t realised it would be so soon. With her mother’s mind spiralling deeper and deeper into insanity, it has never been more important for Mirae to master her magic. If she succeeds, Mirae begins her own countdown to insanity. If she fails, then the entire kingdom will be in grave danger.
The plot of this book is deeply convoluted, built on layers upon layers of backstory which are just waiting for the reader to peel back piece by piece. This often led to unclear character motivations, creating a winding and unpredictable narrative. Loyalties seemed to be constantly shifting, and no one was quite who I thought they were at the start. This is compounded by Mirae’s turbulent glimpses into her own future, which frequently offers more questions than answers. Even the ending of the book is shrouded in uncertainty, a cliffhanger of immense proportions!
Most interesting was how the characters themselves reacted in the face of this constant uncertainty. Mirae’s faith in the gods drives her stubbornly forward, whilst others put their faith in her (both waveringly and unwaveringly). Captain Jia seemed to have the most genuine and believable reactions. We understand from the start that her loyalties are harshly conflicted between love and duty, a conflict which Mirae seems particularly good at manipulating. Time and time again, we see Captain Jia struggle with her conscience and her sense of duty, only for her very valid concerns to be completely overruled by others. Her struggle adds a sense of realism to the narrative, as well as provides a stark reminder of the dangers that the characters face.
One thing I would have liked to explore in more detail was the different types of magic that are woven throughout the book. Even in a kingdom where magic is banned, there is a religious aspect of it that cannot be quashed. Yet much of this is overshadowed by Mirae’s switching power. Fortunately, this book is only the first in a series, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Lena Jeong to reveal even more details of her magical world.