The final editorial review for The Burning Bandit is here!
5 star and some lovely words about the novel. Thank you so much to Reedsy Discovery for such a great review.
A high fantasy adventure novel, set with a backdrop from Chinese mythology, The Burning Bandit begins with the tale of Kai, who has almost the worst of lives. His entire family was murdered and town destroyed. Yet one thing alone kept him alive—Chi. The General recognizes this and takes him into his own care for a time until he can be a priest. Here Kai meets a boy named Rayan who has troubles of another sort, namely wrestling with his mother's disapproval because he is too gentle or has "too much Water in him". It is in those days, that Kai and Rayan become the best of friends. But things change when the General and the Emperor die, and the High Priestess, who had been training Kai, becomes Empress in the Emperor's stead, leaving Kai as High Priest and Rayan as General. Yet Rayan does not trust the Empress, which leads to friction to emerge in the friendship between Rayan and Kai—that is until Rayan mysteriously vanishes. Soon after, however, there are rumors of a mysterious thief whose weapon of choice is fire. He is known only by the Burning Bandit.
The characterization was very good. The dynamic between Kai and Rayan, both in their friendship and their enmity, felt very real. Hazel skillfully shows the childlike wonder Kai feels when he first comes to The Palace of Supreme Opulence, and how this world is new to him even as it is new to the reader, and also simple yet relatable things with Rayan, such as him dealing with bullies. When writing of them being younger, she conveys the mischievous side of childhood also and how two young boys become friends, as well as how that friendship can grow—or diminish.
As they do grow older, the story becomes more complex. Kai finds himself serving the First Empress because he empathizes with her and suffered similar things to her, and he must deal now with his own conscience once he comes to learn her cruel way of ruling. Rayan in turn must struggle with his oath to serve the First Empress when he realizes she is evil and desires to defeat her.
The minor characters are also well done. Doon, who was introduced as something of a bully to Rayan, has some interesting character growth, becoming more of a friend as the story goes along. Of other characters, such as Rayan's mother and his two brothers, the same could be said. Kaya, Mei, and even the First Empress herself has some complexity, and all of it is well done.
The plot follows an interesting pattern. There are two parts of this story—of Kai and Rayan in childhood and of Rayan and Kai in young adulthood. In the first part, they are more or less friends, with a few hints of enmity. In the second part, they are more or less enemies with a few hints of friendship. This change is quite well-paced.
The story is about friendship, kindness, loyalty, and loss, and it should be relatable to anyone who likes stories about such things and most especially preteen to teenaged boys who like such tales. And, of course, it has the benefit of there not being any shoehorned romantic storyline, which is a massive compliment for a Young Adult novel where the lack of a shoehorned romantic story is rare. Rather, it is genuinely about two boys who are friends in a very realistic way for boys of that age in their circumstance, and it is a good friendship.
The Burning Bandit can be dark at times—with references to genocides and women being made consorts and whatnot. Yet even so, if one can bear those elements or thinks his or her child is mature enough for them, this book is sure to be loved by all those who love stories of magic, adventure, friendship, youth, and coming-of-age.
If you enjoy The Burning Bandit, then please leave a kind review on your retailer of choice. It means the world to indie publishers.
Lauren Louise Hazel x