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Book Review: The Hand, The Eye and The Heart by Zoë Marriott

The Hand, The Eye and the Heart
by Zoë Marriott
Rating: ★★★

Published by Walker Books Australia
Publication Date: 1st of June, 2019
Australian RRP: $17.99

“Zhilan was assigned female at birth; despite an unusual gift for illusions, they know they will live out their life in the perfumed confines of the women’s quarters. But when civil war sets the country aflame, Zhilan is the only one who can save their disabled Father from death on the battlefield. By taking his place. Surviving brutal army training as a male recruit – Zhi – is only the first challenge. Soon Zhi’s unique talents draw them into an even more perilous fight, in the glittering court of the Land of Dragons.”

I didn’t read the blurb for this book at all before I started reading it. From the cover, I actually assumed it was a contemporary and after having it on my bookshelves for over six months I thought it was really time that I picked it up. In the first few pages with the introduction from the author detailing the inspiration for the book I realized it was actually loosely based on Mulan but more so on the Chinese history and several versions of the traditional stories told of Mulan. After that my interest was definitely amplified and the first few pages of the story delivered a great introduction from the perspective of Zhilan killing an intruder to protect their mother and unborn brother at the age of seven.

The fact that this book was about a character with they/them pronouns went totally over my head. I didn’t notice when it was mentioned in the author’s note or during the book until the very end but if I had read the blurb on the back it would have been very clear obviously because it mentions how she was assigned female at birth but throughout the book, they mention how they feel fluid and when they change their features to look more masculine to fight in the war it mirrors how they feel being able to create their own body. I didn’t pick up on a lot of this until the end of the book then it all made sense and I thought it was sweet how they were able to come to the realization and overcome the fear to accept themself and be able to show that as well.

Even though it was inspired by tales of Mulan and set in a heavily Chinese inspired setting I didn’t see a lot of other little details beyond that. Since the author is from the UK I don’t think she had the first-hand experience an Asian author would bring to a novel like this but the central storyline about a person coming into their own, protecting their family and loved ones and conquering over evil is pretty versatile. I liked her writing style and I found the book interesting after the introduction that gripped my attention. There was a humble ending to this book as well and the way the main character found themself was the best part of the book.

(Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending a copy of this book for review. The Hand, The Eye and the Heart is available in-store and online.)

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