Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan (The Celestial Kingdom Duology #2)
After winning her mother's freedom from the Celestial Emperor, Xingyin thrives in the enchanting tranquility of her home. But her fragile peace is threatened by the discovery of a strange magic on the moon and the unsettling changes in the Celestial Kingdom as the emperor tightens his grip on power. While Xingyin is determined to keep clear of the rising danger, the discovery of a shocking truth spurs her into a perilous confrontation.
Forced to flee her home once more, Xingyin and her companions venture to unexplored lands of the Immortal Realm, encountering legendary creatures and shrewd monarchs, beloved friends and bitter adversaries. With alliances shifting quicker than the tides, Xingyin has to overcome past grudges and enmities to forge a new path forward, seeking aid where she never imagined she would. As an unspeakable terror sweeps across the realm, Xingyin must uncover the truth of her heart and claw her way through devastation—to rise against this evil before it destroys everything she holds dear, and the worlds she has grown to love . . . even if doing so demands the greatest price of all.
TITLE: Heart of the Sun Warrior
AUTHOR: Sue Lynn Tan with Natalie Naudus (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Harper Audio
LENGTH: 465 pages (13 hours 51 minutes)
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
HEART OF THE SUN WARRIOR picks up a little after DAUGTHER OF THE MOON GODDESS. Xingyin is back on the moon with her mother, but now neither of them is bound to stay. Xingyin is still the narrator, and her presentation is consistent with the first book. This wraps up the relationship triangle established in the first book between Xingyin, Liwei, and Wenzhi. It also establishes and resolves a new storyline, related to Xingin's mother and her parents' past. As the final book of the duology, it's self-contained enough for the main narrative to make sense if someone didn't read the first book, but the friendships, allies, and enemies who drive the story were almost all established earlier. It's very good at recapping when necessary in a way that feels very natural, but it'll definitely be more resonant to someone trying to remember what happened earlier, not someone who didn't read the first book at all.
The worldbuilding leans on things set up in the first book, expanding on a couple of new areas and spending much more on the moon and Xingyin's parents. Her mother is finally free to leave the moon and this makes way for opportunities long denied to her. It is immersive without getting bogged down in descriptions of each place. They have a distinctive character conveyed through Xingyin's reactions and worries, as well as the people in the various areas. It's not as travel-heavy as the first book, with a much more straightforward quest in a shorter timespan. The elixir of immortality is in play once again, and the quest, in this case, is to flee and not die from the king's wrath, while hopefully figuring out how to stop a plot against Xingyin's mother.
Xingyin is still torn between Liwei and Wenzhi, with both men making their interest clear but not pressuring her. Her complicated feelings are driven by events in the first book, and she's trying to sort out her thoughts and desires. They represent two different kinds of lives in addition to being different people, and she's strongly bonded to them. I like this better than a lot of love triangles, but I must admit that a part of me wishes this resolved like IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao. It doesn't because Liwei and Wenzhi are not at all interested in each other, and so it remains a choice between people on Xingyin's part. Ultimately I like how it ends, I think it fits the characters and the narrative. Because they are immortal unless actively killed, this is very early in Xingyin's presumably long existence to come, and the ending is very aware of that. It helps to solidify the sense that this is one particularly important and eventful chapter in her life, but that this isn't the end by any stretch.
Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, toxic relationship, emotional abuse, child death, death.
Moderate CW for confinement, blood, violence, fire/fire injury, self harm.
Minor CW for alcohol, kidnapping, parental death.