Is it romance, or is it fantasy? These days, many readers want something in between.
“The Night Ends with Fire,” an upcoming novel by K. X. Song, joins the ranks of Rebecca Yarros’ “Fourth Wing” and Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” as a “romantasy” story, a popular hybrid genre that combines the action and adventure of a traditional fantasy story with the swoonworthy notion of true love — or in this case, loves?
Out July 2, Song’s debut adult fantasy novel is inspired by the traditional Chinese legend of “Mulan.” In an author’s note prefacing the novel, Song says a series of questions emerged as she grew up with the 1998 Disney animated film.
“What would happen to Mulan if she were no longer content?” Song writes. “What if, upon experiencing freedom disguised as a man, she no longer wished to confine herself to the restrictive gender boundaries of her society?”
“The Night Ends with Fire” focuses on heroine Meilin, who is “neither confident nor bold” at the start. But she seizes control of her fate by entering the army, taking her father’s place after he tries to marry her off.
As war between the Three Kingdoms brews, she finds herself drawn to both the leader of her platoon, Liu Sky, and an “infuriating enemy prince who challenges everything she knows about her kingdom and about her own heart.” All the while, she’s forced to confront her own ambition after she encounters a sea dragon spirit offering great power — perfect for the Year of the Dragon, which starts Feb. 10, the Lunar New Year.
“’The Night Ends with Fire’ takes my love for the Chinese wuxia drama – with its epic scale, star-crossed romance, and emotionally charged plot full of hairpin turns – and melds it with my interest in questions of female ambition and power, and what it costs,” Song says in a statement to TODAY.com.
Without further ado, here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming romantasy novel, “The Night Ends with Fire.”
‘The Night Ends with Fire’ excerpt
Hours later, as I lay in my bedroll, a slow warmth spread through my chest as I recalled my conversation with Prince Liu. Liu Sky. I let myself smile, unseen in the dark.
But I had forgotten I was not alone. A voice hissed in warning, and I felt my blood curdle. “Don’t trust him,” said the now-familiar disembodied voice. “He will betray you.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” I whispered furiously.
The ominous voice grew distant, as if he were slinking away. “You can’t.”
Beside me, Sparrow shifted in his sleep. I stilled, praying no one had woken. If they knew I was hearing voices in my head, even my few friends wouldn’t defend me. Was the voice imagined— somehow the same disease that had afflicted my mother? Or perhaps worse—was the voice real, and my mother had been telling the truth all along?
Mother once said a powerful spirit lived in her ear.
I shivered at the thought, at the blasphemy of it all. If I was caught, it’d surely be the end of me. A sentenced lunatic had few options in Anlai. At best, they were confined to an asylum. At worst, they were labeled a black magic practitioner—and their corpse fed to the dogs.
Was this punishment from the heavens, I wondered, for forsaking my predestined fate? Or had this always been in my cards—to follow in my mother’s footsteps?
Disquieted, I reached under my tunic to loosen the necklace from my chest bindings. I clutched it in my palm for the first time since Xiuying had given it to me, wishing for relief from my anxiety. It occurred to me then: the voice had only begun speaking to me after I’d obtained my mother’s necklace. After I’d worn her jade pendant.
I studied the jade in the dark. I couldn’t make out the characters, but I could feel them, engraved in the stone: 青龍. Qinglong. Azure Dragon.
Could it be, I wondered, could it truly be a spirit seal? A way to commune with fabled creatures beyond the physical realm, worn by the spirit summoners of legends past? But the old seals had been locked away since the rise of the Wu Dynasty, over a century ago. The only known jade seal in Anlai belonged to the ruling Liu family, where it was stored in the imperial treasury . . .
“Father ignored the threat, of course,” Sky had told me, the day before I’d enlisted. “But later, he had a certain room in the imperial treasury checked, for the first time in decades. And that was when he discovered—a certain jade seal stolen.”
Could this be that stolen seal?
Could my own mother have been the thief?
But if she’d truly stolen a spirit seal, if she’d truly borne the power of a genuine dragon, how could she have drowned in the Wen River when she’d always loved to swim? Taking the growing abuse of my father without protest. Confining herself in her rooms, as if she had to be locked away.
I had never once seen her perform any kind of black magic, much less summon a dragon. My memories of her were mostly from her final days, when she would mutter to herself or to me, start stories with no beginning or end, walk in circles, or even disappear for hours at a time, before locking herself in her rooms and refusing to come out.
How could it be true: my mother, a spirit summoner? No, it was absurd, to believe that my mother would have dared break into the imperial treasury, to harness the power of the sea dragon. I was lonely and delusional. I only wanted to convince myself that I was not alone, that my mother had also been like me—covetous, full of greed, desiring more than her appointed lot in life.
I closed my eyes in disappointment. Against the darkness of my eyelids, I was confronted by a memory, or a vision. I saw a girl, running as fast as her legs could carry her. Ma? I wondered. But then she came to an abrupt halt, turning with a jagged, stifling violence. It was not my mother. It was . . . me.
Her face, once familiar, was transformed by rage. She drew her sword as her attacker whirled at her, their blades decisive and furious. Their shared hatred was evident in their thrusts and parries. They were fighting to kill.
And as the girl lost her sword and the boy brought his down to her throat, I finally caught sight of his face. Liu Sky.
Excerpted from THE NIGHT ENDS WITH FIRE by K. X. Song published by Ace, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2024 by K. X. Song.