Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

This was definitely a book that had me at the cover. Then when I read the front flap blurb, I  had to read it. A legendary library? Heck yes! 

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed in the story. I finished it because I wanted to see what happened to the main characters but it was not quite as magical and legendary as I had hoped it would be. 

It's China, 1937. Japan is invading China, and slowly swallowing cities and moving inland. The Communist party is gaining some momentum and is recruiting young students. Lian is a young student at Minghua University in Nanking, and they've been ordered to leave the city for safety--a thousand miles away, across China. They'll have to walk at night to keep themselves safe from Japanese bombers, and they have a great treasure that must be delivered safely: the Library of Legends. Volumes of China's history of legends and folklore; a five hundred year old priceless collection that would be an immeasurable loss to the Chinese people if it fell into enemy hands or was destroyed. 

Lian is accompanied by a large group of students, but a few stand out: Liu, his servant Sparrow, and Lian's friend Meirong. Lian has a bit of a crush on Liu, who is the son of a rich and powerful man, and handsome to boot. He's smart, but never has had to really work hard or push himself for any reason. Sparrow, his servant, quietly takes care of him and also has a secret agenda: she's immortal, and one of the mythical four maids in waiting. She has returned in human form in the hope that Liu will fall in love with her. It's a tale of reincarnation that unfortunately is doomed to never have a happy ending. 

Oh, there's more to this story. I had hoped the legends and folklore would be much more of the tale, but that just isn't the case. I had hoped the Library of Legends would factor more into the story, but its journey concludes a bit before the end of the book. What I did find interesting was the message moving across China to all Gods and Goddesses: the gates to heaven were going to close, and they had to move quickly to enter once and for all.  Once people worshipped Gods and Goddesses and prayed to them; that had faded, and they were no longer needed or wanted in modern China. So, it was time for them to leave China for their home, never to return. I found that really sad. And knowing what was to come for China makes it even more poignant to me. 

This wasn't a bad story by any stretch; it was fascinating to read about the travels of the students to another place, very far into China, where they could continue their education. The Chinese government believed their students were the future of the country, and did everything they could to protect them and keep them in school. They were losing the war with Japan, which had much more military might. China just had a lot of men to put through the war machine. 

If you like mythology, this would be a novel to read-if anything it will peak your interest in Chinese mythology. The historical background is interesting as well, and a period of history I didn't know much about. The characters are all just trying to survive as best they can in a world that is falling down around them. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that falls short in the mythology that I was looking for; however, it is an interesting tale and would appeal to historical fiction fans.