Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Book Review | THE EMPEROR AND THE ENDLESS PALACE by Justinian Huang

The Emperor and the Endless Palace
by Justinian Huang
Publication: March 26, 2024
Publisher: HarperCollins / MIRA
Genre: Romantasy
Rating: ★★★★★

“What if I told you that the feeling we call love is actually the feeling of metaphysical recognition, when your soul remembers someone from a previous life?”

In the year 4 BCE, an ambitious courtier is called upon to seduce the young emperor—but quickly discovers they are both ruled by blood, sex and intrigue.

In 1740, a lonely innkeeper agrees to help a mysterious visitor procure a rare medicine, only to unleash an otherworldly terror instead.

And in present-day Los Angeles, a college student meets a beautiful stranger and cannot shake the feeling they’ve met before.

Across these seemingly unrelated timelines woven together only by the twists and turns of fate, two men are reborn, lifetime after lifetime. Within the treacherous walls of an ancient palace and the boundless forests of the Asian wilderness to the heart-pounding cement floors of underground rave scenes, our lovers are inexplicably drawn to each other, constantly tested by the worlds around them.

As their many lives intertwine, they begin to realize the power of their undying love—a power that transcends time itself…but one that might consume them both.

An unpredictable roller coaster of a debut novel, The Emperor and the Endless Palace is a genre-bending romantasy that challenges everything we think we know about true love.


Exploring the Depths of Love Across Time.

Justinian Huang's debut novel is a masterful tapestry of love's endurance through the ages. The narrative takes us on a journey across different timelines, from ancient China to modern-day Los Angeles, weaving a complex story of romance, betrayal, and destiny.

In 4 BCE China, we meet a low-ranking clerk whose life takes a dramatic turn when he is chosen to capture the young emperor's attention. This marks the beginning of an epic saga that traverses centuries, highlighting the immutable force of love. Huang's portrayal of this era is rich with historical detail, immersing readers in a world where duty and desire collide. A favorite trope, I must admit.

The story then shifts to 1740 China, where an innkeeper's mundane existence is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious young man and his grandmother. The ensuing events draw the innkeeper into a web of intrigue, requiring the aid of a past lover. A tribute to Pu Songling, of course. Huang skillfully uses this narrative strand to explore themes of isolation and the human yearning for connection.

In present-day Los Angeles, a college student's life is forever changed when he encounters a mysterious artist who seems to have captured his likeness across time. This strand of the story delves into the complexities of identity and the search for belonging in a world that often feels alienating.

Huang's ability to toggle between these periods with ease is a testament to his storytelling prowess. The characters' struggles and triumphs resonate deeply, as they are reborn and rediscovered in each other's arms, lifetime after lifetime. Every interaction is like a mirage, at once familiar, and yet, unique. The novel is a celebration of queer love, transcending the boundaries of time and space.

Drawing from Chinese history and mythology, Huang creates a central couple that embodies the power and beauty of love. The novel's scope is ambitious, yet Huang manages to deliver a narrative that is lyrical, intimate, and grand. I was enthralled.

THE EMPEROR AND THE ENDLESS PALACE has been praised for its genre-bending elements, combining fantasy, romance, and historical fiction to create a romantasy that challenges conventional notions of love. It is a novel that promises to leave readers both enchanted and contemplative, pondering the enduring nature of love and the ways in which it can define our lives.

With this stunning debut, Justinian Huang has established himself as a formidable voice in contemporary literature. His novel is not just a story; it is an experience that celebrates the timeless and transformative power of love. For those who are drawn to tales that span lifetimes and challenge fate, THE EMPEROR AND THE ENDLESS PALACE is a must-read.


About the Author:

Born to immigrants in Monterey Park, California, Justinian Huang studied English at Pomona College and screenwriting at the University of Oxford. He is now based in Los Angeles with Swagger, a Shanghainese rescue dog he adopted during his five years living in China. THE EMPEROR AND THE ENDLESS PALACE is his debut novel.
 Photo curtesy of HarperCollins.

*Thanks to HarperCollinsCA for the ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this unbiased review.


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