A Beautiful Message

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Content Warning: Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Societal and Economic Inequality, Orphan, Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse, Addiction, Illness, Death, Imprisonment, Abduction, War

"Little yellow flower,
You crossed the grass and the wind kissed every blade
Your feet had blessed.
I see springtime in the garden of your eyes."

Song of the Crimson Flower is a beautiful young love story between a boy who had no home and a girl born into high status. The interaction between Bao and Lan's character mimics a slowly progressing dance. Some bumps and awkwardness occur in the beginning. Sometimes, it’s even crude. But, the end result is something beautiful.

Bao, an orphan, and understudy to the local physician, has loved Lan for as long as he's known her. But with her being high-born, and already betrothed, he has little chance at ending up with her. When a scandal is uncovered, any ties between Bao and Lan are cut. Heartbroken, Bao seeks the aid of a witch and local legend. Upon finding her, Bao is cursed for reasons unbenounced to him, and he is forced to set off on a quest to find the witch again to remove the curse.

Along the way, Bao makes an unlikely ally, friend...and possibly something even more than that. She helps him deal with the curse set upon him, his anxiety, and uncovering more about his history. While the writing throughout held a simplistic quality, it was for this reason that I found this author’s voice so refreshing. This writing style, in comparison to the majority of Young Adult novels out there, offers something unique. It allows the reader to pick up on little details that aren’t so pivotal, but they still do matter. I really enjoyed the perspectives that the characters offered, and understanding some of the simplicities throughout the plot.

The culprit of the plot shows up in a few ways. The main, is a substance called “black spice,” a drug derived from an engineered Poppy flower, causing major turmoil throughout the five kingdoms. Highly addictive, it was outlawed by most of the kingdoms, except for the Gray City. For years, the Gray City has undermined the wishes of the other kingdoms, and have continued circulating the spice. Additionally, an incurable illness called “Bloodpox” has swept over the nation. This fatal, and highly contagious disease, has killed many people, and everyone is seeking a cure. The next antagonist is a legendary “river witch” that places a curse on Bao after he seeks out her aid to forget the one he loves but doesn’t return that love. After the curse, he tries to find the witch to have her break the spell, but she is nowhere to be found. There are others as well, but I won’t mention them here for the sake of spoilers.

The story is told by alternative point-of-views of Bao and Lan. Bao’s character is quite impactful. As an orphan in this historical setting, he has never known a life of luxury. Passing through several families, he finally ends up being taken in by a physician to become his apprentice. The physician’s wife cares little for Bao, and treats him poorly the entire time he resides with Master Hyunh. He is never able to step away from the reality of his socioeconomic status.
I’m the only decision he ever made without her approval. Bao thought.

"That was why she hated him--that, and the fact that rich people like her and her precious son, Tam, believed that a person’s birth determined their worth. Tam had always resented the orphan his father had brought home like a stray dog. Better blood flowed in him and his mother; penniless orphan like Bao was no more important than the dirt beneath their feet."

His difficult life encourages susceptibility to anxiety and panic attacks. Insecurity and being an outsider in his adoptive family only put him in a worse state of mind. When Bao finally works up the courage to address the one he has fallen in love with, he is utterly crushed with her reaction. A flute remains his most consistent companion throughout his sad life, and becomes an important focus for his future.

Lan, the alternative voice which carries the story, adds a very different viewpoint to Bao. Lan’s life is one of shackled privileges. She has been born into a family with money and status, but with the timeframe, she too, has her limitations as a young woman.

”Ba noi always encouraged me to do what I wanted while I could. Too soon, she would say, you’ll only do what you’re supposed to do, and say what you’re supposed to say. And she was right.”

This was an easy read, but it also has elements of grit and meatiness. These are eventually seen in the plot twists, and really bring the story full circle. I thought this was a beautiful story, and loved to watch how the characters grew, but also retained the best parts of themselves throughout their transition.

Vulgarity: None.
Sexual content: Kissing only.
Violence: Minimal.

My Rating: ★★★★