Unfortunately for Liena, 16 is incredibly late for magic to develop, and she is more than a decade behind at the Academy. She loves learning and applies herself, but battle prowess (important for a low magic seer) is well out of her reach. The consequences of failure are huge: if expelled, Liena could end up a monster hunter, certain to meet a terrible end. When literally and figuratively warm Nianzu (and his dimples) takes an interest in her (along with mean girl Shu), Liena’s days get way more complicated, and not just because of her Magic Theory class. Nianzu is the equivalent of an ultra popular high school senior–and he’s also the Crown Prince of Zheninghai.
The world of the Zheninghai Chronicles is full of magic and mythology (protective or lucky creatures like dragons, phoenixes and qilin are fearsome monsters in Zheninghai). With its unforgiving academy for magic users, Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses reminded me of R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War (but far less grim) combined with Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter (but more romantic). And the romance is definitely squeal-worthy.
My one complaint is that Liena often reads as younger than 16 (prior to the end). She is sometimes described as whining or giggling, which made her sound a good bit younger to me. She also goes completely weak-kneed at the sight of Nianzu and talks herself right out of being the focus of his attention. She has a serious case of “who, me?” when it comes to the handsome prince. (On the other hand, the butcher’s boy back home didn’t notice her existence; her experience with boys is nonexistent.)
Otherwise, Blythe’s writing is smooth and descriptive. I particularly enjoyed her atmospheric similes and metaphors, like “knife-cold air” and “her mind was like a mushy bowl of rice.” She also excels at combat descriptions, never getting bogged down in minutiae that would ruin the sense of speed. Yet the scenes in which Nianzu helps her with her training are highly convincing. I felt sure the author had martial arts and self-defense experience.
This was a 5-star read for me, and I’ll be sure to dive into whatever comes next in the world of Zheninghai.