Jonathan Dao
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March 23, 2018 at 02:00 PM EDT

If you’ve made it through the Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, author Julie C. Dao is ready to welcome you to her next fantasy epic: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix.

The new book is fashioned as a fantastical retelling of Snow White, set in the same expansive East Asian-inspired world as the author’s acclaimed debut Forest. As the story begins: Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right.

Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

These questions will have to wait until the book’s Oct. 23 release. But in advance, EW can exclusively reveal Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix‘s gorgeous cover, as well as an exclusive excerpt. Read on below and pre-order the book here. (You can also buy Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, available in paperback in Sept., here.)

Philomel Books

Excerpt from Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, by Julie C. Dao

The messenger came at dawn, riding up to the gates with a scroll in his hand.

Jade tensed as his looming black-robed figure emerged from the wintry forest mists, thinking at once of the bandits who had tried to attack the monastery three nights ago. They had been hungry and desperate enough to attempt to rob the monks of what little they had, and even after Abbess Lin had chased them away, the women lived in fear that they would return. Jade tightened her grip on her bucket of animal feed, wondering if it would be heavy enough to disarm him so she could sound the alarm.

But her fear turned into curiosity as the man approached. Not only was he by himself, but he rode an elegant black horse and his robes were trimmed with gold.

Auntie Ang hurried past with a lantern in her hand, breath emerging in the frigid air, her glance at Jade both reassuring and apprehensive as she approached him. “May I help you, sir?”

“I have two letters to deliver. One is for the abbess,” he told her in a deep, strident voice, passing the scroll through the gate. “She will know for whom the other is meant.”

The middle-aged monk accepted the missive, her eyes widening at something she saw upon it. “My goodness. This is from . . .”

Jade craned her neck. In the dim lantern light, she could see only a large black circle on the thick roll of paper. There could be nothing shocking in a seal. Abbess Lin had an entire shelf of rusty-red wax sticks in her quarters for correspondence.

But the messenger seemed to understand Auntie Ang’s awe. “See that it is delivered immediately.” As the monk bowed and left, the man caught sight of Jade standing in the shadows and went still. Even his horse held its breath; the little columns of smoke puffing from its nostrils disappeared. Something gold gleamed on his chest, an emblem that looked strangely familiar. It was clear he served someone of great importance.

Jade tried to remember her manners, but couldn’t find her voice and bowed instead. In one fluid motion, the messenger swung off his horse and returned the bow, much more deeply than hers. He wore a black hood that hid all but his eyes. “Princess,” he murmured, before climbing back on his horse and disappearing once more into the trees.

Princess.

Now, there was a word she knew well.

There was often a princess in the children’s tales Amah still insisted on telling her, even though she was almost eighteen. It was a word meant for old stories and faded texts, a word that belonged to the outside world. It lived in the shaded leaves and branches of the Great Forest. It did not fit into her life, into the rough robes she wore or the sound of the morning’s first gong, waking the monks for prayer and meditation.

Jade pressed her face against the gate, watching the treetops shiver in the icy wind. Everything outside the monastery, from prowling bandits to cold-eyed messengers, seemed like a realm apart she was content to know only through Amah’s fables. She let out a slow sigh, wrapping her fingers around the bars that protected her.

Still, the coming of the messenger and the word he had uttered unnerved her.

Princess.

It was as though the Great Forest had reached through the gates with branches like eager hands . . . as though that other world had, at last, found her.

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