Fascinating YA fantasy

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STRIKE THE ZITHER is a fascinating YA fantasy that transports the reader to Year 414 and the Xin Dynasty. War is raging between factions who are backing different people for emperor/empress. Zephyr is the strategist behind Xin Ren, who is trying her hardest to save the peasants while fighting against enemies with infinitely more weapons and wealth. When disaster strikes, Zephyr must make a gamble that seemingly betrays the people she is sworn to protect.

As the battle continues, Zephyr must keep her wits about her as she strategizes in new and unexpected ways to aid Ren and work against her enemies, a feat that seems more impossible and dangerous each step of the way. While doing this, she must also consider the other strategists who have her in their sights and are orchestrating their own battles against Ren - and against Zephyr.

What I loved: This is a lush and fast-paced YA fantasy that really transports the reader to this volatile time and the wars being waged. Zephyr is a complex character who has studied hard to become a good strategist and is driven by her passion for victory while also dealing with complex personal relationships. In particular, the strategists of Miasma and Cicada, against whom Zephyr must plot, are complicated by her emotions for them. While they are all working against each other, Zephyr also cares for each in different ways.

The book has a huge plot twist in the middle that I absolutely did not see coming, and I loved being surprised by it. It did lead from the earlier parts, but wow! I love a good shocker that fits within the story, and this delivers big time. It will be very interesting to see where this one goes.

Themes around fate (and free will or lack thereof), humanity, war and politics, betrayal and moral gray areas, personal motivations, the weight of the soul and what is body vs mind, and taking the long-term view are all really thought-provoking. Zephyr is a clever and crafty character that is easy to love as she cares deeply for those around her and wants to do right by them. Secondary characters are also complex and nothing is so black-and-white as it may seem. I am very interested to see how they will evolve in future books.

Final verdict: STRIKE THE ZITHER is a clever and fascinating YA fantasy with lush world-building, complex characters, and a unique premise. I will definitely be following this series to see where it goes next!