About the Book
Book: The Vermilion Riddle
Author: Dana Li
Release date: March 1, 2022
“To enter Faerie’s blessed demesne
four secrets must be found:
the land unbound by time and space
opens only to the one who knows
the Light, the Song, and Mortal Gate.”
In the sheltered town of Carmel, women do not have a future outside of a good marriage. That future is threatened when Leah Edwards’ father gambles away the family’s livelihood and estate. She and her sisters must hurry to find husbands. Then August Fox, a Guardian from Cariath, comes to town and purchases a supposedly haunted manor. Charged to keep the peace between mortals and Faerie, the Guardians are the stuff of legend. After he stuns her with a marriage proposal, Leah reluctantly journeys to Cariath, discovering there is more to August and the legends than she guessed.
Nimrod and his Oath-breakers betrayed the Guardians, seeking to solve an ancient riddle that would unlock the Faerie realm. Not all his followers share his desire for conquest. Benedict Fox, his second-in-command, has different motives. But as he continues fulfilling Nimrod’s plan, Benedict hurtles towards a choice between saving his family and settling a personal vendetta.
For Leah, August, and their allies, it is a race against time to solve the ancient riddle before the Oath-breakers, and reunite the Guardians to save the mortal realm. The war is never really over, and this time, the battle lines cut through blood ties and brotherhood.
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Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I love all the world-building, the interesting characters, the unique storylines. The Vermilion Riddle is no different. Intertwining Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with elements of Christianity into a fantasy genre made for a fascinating read.
It took me a while to get into the fantasy portion of the novel, as I was somewhat confused by it. What exactly are Guardians and Oath-breakers? How do the two different stories–the story of Leah in her small, sheltered town where she has to find a husband before her father loses the estate–and the story of Benedict–with his mission, organized by Nimrod, to infiltrate the Faerie realm–come together?
It slowly all comes together as Leah marries August and moves to Cariath. Her story from there becomes even more exciting, as she and August venture out to stop Nimrod and the rest of the Oath-breakers from opening up the Faerie realm. Leah proves herself to be a strong, capable woman. She is not the same person that she was in Carmel, attending balls and participating in the gossip of the town. No, she has become a warrior, willing to do anything and everything to help her husband protect the Faerie realm at all costs.
The book starts out slow as we get to know the characters. August carries burdens from his past that have shaped him into the stoic, almost cold person that he is and that also causes tension within his and Leah’s relationship. But as time goes on, he reveals that he does have a good heart, one that is determined to protect others.
Leah soon learns that her place is next to her husband’s side, no matter what. But can she be when he does not seem to want to let her in? Her determination leads her on an epic journey she never expected.
Li pulls together a beautiful world with a heart-pounding, page-turning tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat. You’ll fall in love with the characters and root for them as they fight for what they believe in, for what is good and right.
I had received a copy of the book as part of the Celebrate Lit Blogging Team and was required to give an honest review.
About the Author
Dana Li is a software product manager by day, and a novelist by night. She holds an MS in management science and engineering from Stanford University and a BS in computer science from USC, but she’s always been better at writing stories than code. Her writing misadventures began with a dozen now-deleted Star Wars fanfiction tales. She loves good fantasy/sci-fi, classy cuisines, and roller coasters (but not all at once). Dana currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and The Vermilion Riddle is her first novel.
More from Dana
Two of my favorite fiction authors are J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Besides both being British, their works are worlds apart, literally – one wrote epic, sprawling stories of the battle between good and evil, while the other wrote of small town families, romance, and culture in the Regency era. If Tolkien’s heroes failed, death and darkness would sweep across the land. If Austen’s heroes failed, a lady would be single at thirty. (The horror!)
As different as they are, I had a desire to blend the best of both genres. I didn’t think it’d be the most marketable book, but then, I also thought no one else would write this. That concept sparked the genesis of The Vermilion Riddle. I wanted an epic fantasy that was also character-driven and intimate. I love how Austen deftly explored familial and romantic relationships in the framework of her society, and I was curious to see how that would unfold in the context of a traditional fantasy. I shamelessly drew influence from the Regency era for parts of my story’s culture, simply because it’s got that quaint, cozy vibe, stored inside a broad, sweeping world.
This is a snippet of what I wrote in my original query letter for The Vermilion Riddle:
“While the novel evokes elements of classic fantasy—quests, duels, and the battle of good versus evil—it thrives on character exploration. The plot hums to the beat of a cosmic conflict and climax, though the struggles within a family—between fathers and sons, brothers by blood (and not), husband and wife—forms its core melody.”
When it came to the characters and relationships in the story, three questions framed my writing.
What makes a strong, relatable, and feminine heroine?
What happens to brothers who are pitted against each other ideologically?
What does a love story that happens after marriage look like?
I did not know, concretely, the answer to any of these when I began, and Riddle was going to be my way of exploring them. In retrospect, I was in over my head. I’m not sure if I ever found totally satisfactory answers, but as I worked on the novel over the years, I felt the story mature quietly alongside of me. There were nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from life and other people that made their way into the story. There were also surprising insights that emerged from the characters as I was writing.
In the end, I wanted to write characters who, though born into another world, were achingly human. Though they chase ancient secrets and face the fury of the faerie-kind, they aren’t wrapped in an air of mythology that makes them feel far removed from us. They are the sort of people who could be legends – but a legend is usually formed in retrospect. They are like Merry and Pippin, hobbits who felt like useless baggage for much of their journey before they were hailed as heroes.
That’s what I strove for, at least – a story that’s epic yet intimate, that’s far-flung and yet close to home.
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To celebrate her tour, Dana is giving away the grand prize package of a $50 Amazon gift card and a paperback copy of The Vermilion Riddle (e-book for those outside the US)!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.