Review: And Break the Pretty Kings

A huge white moon is in a red sky. In front of it is a Korean young woman in a flowing royal blue skirt. She has on a red and gold top with ribbons. Her right arm is lifted and flame are coming from it. Her left arm is down and a dark substance is flowing from it. Her hair is up and frames her face. There are red flowers on the sides and at the bottom of the cover too.Title: And Break the Pretty Kings
Author: Lena Jeong
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 448
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: A crown princess. A monster the gods fear. A destiny no one can outrun.

Inspired by Korean history and myths, the first book in the Sacred Bone series is a rich and evocative high-stakes fantasy that is perfect for fans of Gallant and Six Crimson Cranes.

Mirae was meant to save her queendom, but the ceremony before her coronation ends in terror and death, unlocking a strange new power within her and foretelling the return of a monster even the gods fear. Amid the chaos, Mirae’s beloved older brother is taken—threatening the peninsula’s already tenuous truce.

Desperate to save her brother and defeat this ancient enemy before the queendom is beset by war, Mirae sets out on a journey with an unlikely group of companions while her unpredictable magic gives her terrifying visions of a future she must stop at any cost.

Review: [And Break the Pretty Kings includes scenes of torture, drowning, and loss of control due to episodes of “madness.” Sexism, body horror, and coercion feature significantly as well.]

The world building in And Break the Pretty Kings was one of the highlights for me. It’s a rich fantasy world, with a complicated magic system and court politics that, as the blurb says, are inspired by Korean history and myths. Author Lena Jeong did a careful balancing act of exposition and trusting readers to pick up on things in context, though it helped that Mirae had to learn one of the types of magic from the beginning. All of the details did a great job of developing depth, even in areas/aspects we weren’t able to spend much time in. It’s the kind of book where I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the author had written several thousand words of the world’s history that never even made it anywhere near the final page.

Mirae made for a very interesting narrator. Her mother’s deteriorating state means she has to take the throne much sooner than anyone thought she would, and her fight to appear and act confident even when the readers know her doubts and how unprepared she feels at times. Her position as royalty also provides an extra layer of conflict between her and her companions, not only in who is willing to argue with Mirae (and how they go about it) but also watching Mirae change as the journey continues and she is challenged on her worldview in various ways.

I struggled a bit with the pacing/structure of And Break the Pretty Kings. It is, essentially, a road trip book, by which I mean a lot of the action is trying to get from one place to another in order to Do a Thing, then move on to the next location. The road trip is supposed to be to rescue Mirae’s brother, but the focus gets split with the Inconstant Son (and maybe the queendom is corrupt and deserves to be torn down) plot line to the point where I felt like the road trip and rescue structure was getting in the way of the latter. Mirae’s time switching felt underutilized as well, especially since we didn’t “catch up” to more than one of those future points. There’s a sequel slated for next year, which I’m sure will tackle the dangling threads, but I felt this book suffered some because of just how much was left unanswered. At the end, I was uncertain of my footing and the story’s overall progress.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Lena Jeong has built a fascinating world and characters for And Break the Pretty Kings. There’s a lot of promise here, but overall, I think this is a book that I will appreciate more once I know what the ultimate destination is and how everything is meant to fit together.

Extras: And Break the Pretty Kings by Lena Jeong, a Book Spotlight & Interview

I Am Not Your Token Asian Writer

Mirae, Mirae in My Thrall (playlist)