The Library of Legends begins in China in 1937. During a time of much great chaos and historic change, there are two journeys that are taking place. The first is the main story of the students of Minghua University journeying west to safety. Among the students is nineteen-year-old Hu Lian who is one of the students tasked with protecting an ancient collection of stories known as the “Library of Legends”. The other journey occurring simultaneously and unknown to almost everyone except for a select few is the departure of all the Chinese immortals including various guardian spirits, gods, fairies, and other celestial beings from China.
I found the plot compelling as it takes historical fiction and mixes it with fantasy elements. In fact, my favourite scenes in the book were the descriptions of all the immortals who are leaving earth to go to the Kulun Mountains. I’m usually not a fan of magic realism, but the descriptions of the processions of immortals were breathtaking. It was also exciting to witness the characters from Chinese mythology come to life and interact with each other and the occasional human. The shedding of the “human” disguises of the various immortals and the reveal of their true identities throughout the book was always magical. It was interesting to see how each one had chosen to live their life when they were on earth. One memorable interaction was the one between Sparrow and the Nanking City God. Those who are familiar with the history of the Nanking will understand just how heartbreaking it is, as we the immortal god so torn that he was unable to protect his City that he has decided to leave for good as he could not watch the horror anymore. This just goes to show how terrible and hopeless the war is for China that even Gods are powerless to help.
I liked both the character of Lian and Sparrow as they both had interesting back stories and motives. Additionally, it was refreshing that while both made mistakes and were flawed, neither were not painted as villains and instead they became unlikely friends. Professor Kang was another figure I grew fond of, especially as I could relate to his fascinations with the immortals and celestial beings. I liked that we got to spend time with him as he formed a bond with Sparrow and two became each other’s confidant. As for Shao, I found him to be a bland character, and I did not have much sympathy towards him. Perhaps as he was supposed to be a character without a life purpose, that he seems less complex than Lian. I did however, liked how all the main characters such as Shao were connected to the tale of The Willow Star and the Prince.
For a story that combines Chinese myths, folklore and history, it’s rather fitting that The Library of Legends uses a third-person, omniscient narrator. This gives the book a fairytale feel, though at the cost of making it nice difficult to connect and emphasize with some characters. The writing is simple yet still beautiful and the descriptions truly transport you to the late 1930s in China. The pacing also flows smoothly for the majority of the novel. However, in the second half of the book, several important subplots were unfortunately rushed and major conflicts and issues were tied up too quickly and neatly.
If you love books and magical stories and have an interest in Chinese history and myths, then The Library of Legends may be the book for you. There is a bit of a love triangle and romance however it is mainly in the background. Instead, the focus of the book is on the characters’ physical and emotional journeys. Also, while characters are adults, this book could easily appeal to a YA audience. While I would’ve liked for more of the “Library of Legends” and its stories incorporated in the book, The Library of Legends was still a satisfying and unforgettable read.
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.