Elizabeth Lim has made a name for herself as a popular YA fantasy writer, carving out a space for her works of historical adventures that blend together action, romance, and mystery, with a deep influence from East Asian mythology. Lim herself is known for her duologies, breaking away from the traditional ‘YA trilogy’ mould, whether that’s the demons-and-design pair of Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk, or Six Crimson Cranes and its sequel which draw heavy inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Wild Swans’.
Her Radiant Curse breaks this trend by telling a self-contained story set in the world of the Six Crimson Cranes duology, following the villain of that first book as a young woman as she fights for her sister and her homeland against an oppressive evil and against the childhood curse that has left her imbued with a serpentine appearance and a connection to all snakes.
It’s an interesting creative decision on Lim’s part to give Channari – aka Raikama – the spotlight following the conclusion of the duology, but it’s nonetheless an extremely pleasing diversion that allows for a further exploration of a morally grey character and an expansion of the world that Lim has created.
Channari herself is only a slight deviation on Lim’s niche of lead heroines – smart, plucky, compassionate – in being reviled by the townspeople for the curse that’s inflicted upon her by a malevolent forest deity, while her beloved sister Vanna is revered as a, figuratively and literally, glowing saint. Channari is a compelling lead, darker and more complex than her predecessors, but with a kind heart and a drive to save her sister from not only potential death, but also a forced marriage to a cruel tyrant of a king.
Lim has always had the gift of tonal balance, and while this is a darker, more elegiac take on her brand of YA adventures, this balance endures here, with Lim making sure to spend time investing in characters who, even though the perceptive reader knows they won’t reappear in this iteration in Lim’s other instalments, make an impact and ensure Her Radiant Curse stands on its own merits.
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The action scenes are solid and engagingly cinematic, whether that’s mid-air battles or sword fights that feel taken out of the finest wuxia movies, and there’s a couple of pleasingly bittersweet romances that are endearing enough that when plot intervenes, it’s heartbreaking in its inevitability, even though the reader knows where these characters end up (unless they choose to read the three books in chronological order, which may be an interesting choice).
An excellent addition to Lim’s back catalogue of mythological YA adventures, Her Radiant Curse is an impressive prequel to one of Lim’s most popular duologies. Expertly balancing thrilling action, sweeping romance, and building in backstory and character to an established world, it stands on its own as a story about sisterhood and power, and one of the year’s most enjoyable YA fantasies.
Her Radiant Curse is out on 29th August from Hodder & Stoughton.