A Clash of Steel




[A quick note: I won this copy on BookishFirst and was so excited. I don’t read pirate stories very often. I also loved the cover. It’s one of the prettiest I’ve seen in months. I really didn’t know what to expect out of this one. It’s a sapphic/queer pirate story about a girl coming of age and it’s based on true facts, which is so exciting!]

“𝐈 𝐥𝐨𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐝𝐨𝐦 𝐈 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐰, 𝐭𝐨 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐝𝐚𝐲𝐝𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐦 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐛 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐦𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐬 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐭’𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭. 𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐈 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐢𝐭 𝐬𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐰, 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐈 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐬𝐞𝐞 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐧, 𝐞𝐱𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 𝐝𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐦𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐟.”—C.B. Lee

Pirates of the Caribbean meets Treasure Island in the South China Seas in the early 1800s. Based on true facts, this is a re-imagining of the world’s most infamous female pirate lord Zheng Yi Sao, who was cunning as she was ruthless. The sapphic tale follows two young women, Xiang and Anh, as they chase the legendary pirate treasure of the Dragon Fleet. Xiang’s adventure takes her first to the bustling city of Canton and then out on the high seas where she learns to sail and develops feelings for Anh. The ending had a fantastic twist that really impressed me.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the authenticity. Ship and sailing life, the world building, and OMG the FOOD. The food descriptions!!!! Especially on the streets of Canton. These were so enticing that I actually had to go out and get some Chinese take-out because I was craving it so badly. That’s when you know an author is killing it!

Everything about this story felt true to the time. It was clear that C.B. Lee put a great deal of effort into research and family influence from her mother’s experience fleeing Vietnam. I enjoyed reading her author’s note at the end about her family history. It added so much more depth to her passion behind writing this story.

“𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐨𝐜𝐞𝐚𝐧 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐭, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐬 𝐝𝐫𝐢𝐟𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐧𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞’𝐬 𝐚 𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚𝐥𝐬𝐨 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐛𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝. 𝐈 𝐬𝐢𝐠𝐡 𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐢𝐥𝐲 𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭.”—C.B. Lee

The balance between the plot and the character development was perfect. Xiang grows up in a small village, yearning for her mother’s notice and approval. All she wants is to make her mother proud. This is the linchpin that sets the story in motion. Xiang believes that if she can discover the treasure of the Dragon Fleet, she will save her mother’s tea house and FINALLY make her mother proud. But as she sails across the sea, she learns more about herself. She transforms from a timid girl to a strong, unapologetic woman. She finally finds the “more” she has been searching for. But it comes at a cost.

This entire transformation is set to the backdrop of an exciting race to break down the clues of the lost treasure, clues that were hidden on a scrap of parchment inside the pendent Xiang has been wearing all her life. With these clues, she chases the treasure to its hiding place where she must confront the secrets of her past. I loved Xiang’s character growth and the way her relationship with her mother panned out. It was completely unexpected and I ended up liking it much more than I would have first guessed.

“𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐬 𝐦𝐲 𝐬𝐨𝐮𝐥 𝐡𝐚𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐚𝐥𝐰𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐦𝐞𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐞𝐚𝐭 𝐬𝐞𝐚…𝐈 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥 𝐦𝐲 𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐬𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐩𝐞𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐈 𝐰𝐚𝐤𝐞, 𝐦𝐲 𝐚𝐫𝐦𝐬 𝐬𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐝, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐝𝐚𝐲 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐧𝐞𝐰 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐭𝐡 𝐚𝐬 𝐈 𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐬 𝐨𝐫 𝐩𝐮𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐭𝐬 𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐨𝐝.”—C.B. Lee

What really impressed me about this story was that I LEARNED something. This wasn’t just a fictional work, it had tons of truth centered around one of history’s most successful pirates. Zheng Yi Sao was the only female pirate lord in the world who was capable of uniting over 70,000 pirates and over 1,200 vessels. I mean, how badass is that?! Why haven’t I heard about this bad bish before?! I love stories that open my eyes to something new.


𝐌𝐘 𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝟒.𝟓/𝟓⭐️