When we hear the costs paid by royalty, by “main characters,” what about the costs paid by those that serve? In-yo is sent from the north to become empress, and she is all alone in an unfamiliar kingdom. She has to give up everything of her past life to serve her country. But this story is not about her, necessarily; it’s about servant-turned-handmaiden Rabbit, who has to sacrifice even more, all for In-yo.
She Who Became the Sun tells the story of a girl who is about to die but steals her brother Zhu Chongba’s supposed fate of greatness. Her story is one of a struggle of identity: If she has stolen her brother’s identity to steal also his fate, who is she? What skills is she allowed to possess? What desires is she allowed to have? How can she define her life? Heaven is watching her - literally - and any misstep threatens to send her back to her original proclaimed fate of nothingness. But her brother did die as nothing, and she must use her own skills and desires to make her own fate in the eyes of Heaven and claim her Mandate in his name.
Alix Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches is a historical fiction novel about suffragists (except they’re also witches) and sisters (and they’re also witches). It’s equal parts angry, beautiful, and heartbreaking. The prose is lovely, with sweet little alliterations snuck in as the witches discover the wills, words, and ways to change their world. And Gideon Hill is definitely not based on Mitch McConnell according to the Goodreads Q&A.
The Poppy War trilogy will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the trilogy that got me back into reading fantasy. Someone copied an entire page or two from the first novel into a thread of the worst opening lines in fantasy and I suddenly wanted to read more, and four days later I’d finished the trilogy.