NYT-bestselling author Joan He stuns with YA fantasy epic inspired by Chinese classic

Philadelphia, PANew York Times and Indie bestselling author Joan He shocked readers with the rich Chinese-inspired fantasy Descendant of the Crane, and stunned with the “cli-fi” (climate sci-fi) twists of The Ones We’re Meant to Find. Now she returns with a masterful, genderswapped reimagining of China’s most famous historical epic, Three Kingdoms, in her new novel STRIKE THE ZITHER (October 25, 2022, Roaring Brook Press).

He is diversifying a YA market saturated by Eurocentric fantasy and Western canon by exploring a classic based on one of China’s most tumultuous eras in a way that is captivating for unfamiliar readers, and thrilling for lovers of the original tale.

STRIKE THE ZITHER opens to a world of chaos in the year 414 of the Xin Dynasty, with a puppet empress on the throne and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves. Zephyr (a female reimagining of Chinese statesman Zhuge Liang) took control of her fate by becoming the realm’s most cunning strategists, serving under warlordess Xin Ren, whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But in a war in which one must betray to survive, there are more enemies than one – and not all of them are human.

Filled with found family, adventure, and political intrigue, readers will be exported to another world where loyalty and betrayal come hand in hand.

“Strike The Zither”
Joan He | Oct 25, 2022 | Roaring Brook/Macmillan
Hardcover | 978-1250258588 | $18.99
E-book | B09K68HD9S | $10.99

More about Joan He

JOAN HE was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that storytelling was her favorite form of expression. She studied Psychology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the Delaware River. Descendant of the Crane is her debut young adult fantasy. Her next novel, Strike the Zither, is the first in a duology and will be published on October 25, 2022. Learn more at https://joanhewrites.com.

Follow Joan on social media:
Goodreads: Joan He
Twitter: @JoanHeWrites
Instagram: @JoanHeWrites

In an interview, Joan can discuss:

  • Reimagining classic Chinese history for an audience who is unfamiliar with the original story
  • Her inspiration from Chinese fantasy dramas she watched as a kid
  • Her intentions of writing a feminist version of the story
  • How this novel differs from her previous novels, The Ones We’re Meant to Find and Descendant of the Crane

Advanced Praise for ‘Strike the Zither’

“Strike the Zither is a page-turner, full of unexpected twists, with an expansive, intricate world of sisterhood and subterfuge. He’s smooth, economical style is the perfect vehicle for this gripping political fantasy, marrying cat-and-mouse intrigue with a tenderness and emotional depth that heightens the stakes of every new reveal. A standout work from a remarkable author.” – Olivie Blake, author of The Atlas Six

“A fierce reimagining of the Chinese classic: an ode to loyalty, family, destiny, and the complicated ways each of these elements bind or free the cunning strategist at the center of the tale. This riveting read is full of twists and surprises that shock and delight, building up to the epic conclusion that left me gasping.” – Judy I. Lin, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Book of Tea duology”

“Joan He takes no prisoners, and STRIKE THE ZITHER is her latest triumph. An intricate, expansive epic that poses difficult questions and eschews easy answers, this book is as ambitious as its scheming, ruthless cast―and just like its narrator, delivers above and beyond.” – Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series and Little Thieves

“Filled with twists and turns, STRIKE THE ZITHER is a meticulously plotted, supremely satisfying story that explores identity, legacy, and loyalty in unexpected ways. This is Joan He’s best yet.” – Hannah Whitten, New York Times-bestselling author of FOR THE WOLF

“Rich with intrigue and epic in scale. Strike the Zither grows tall on the heroic classics it draws from, yet beats powerfully with a heart of its own.” – Chloe Gong, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of the These Violent Delights Duet

“Richly layered and highly creative, STRIKE THE ZITHER offers a world brimming with war, love, and unforgettable characters. A truly magnificent book.” – June Hur, bestselling author of The Red Palace

“In this tautly plotted, vividly reimagined tale of a beloved Chinese classic, He orchestrates an epic page-turner… STRIKE THE ZITHER will keep you guessing―and gasping for more.” – June CL Tan, internationally bestselling author of Jade Fire Gold

“Strike the Zither reimagines the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a way never seen before, with intense twists and turns that pay homage to its inspiration while being refreshingly different. A brilliant exploration of destiny and identity!” – Xiran Jay Zhao, New York Times-bestselling author of Iron Widow

Praise for ‘The Ones We’re Meant to Find’

An instant New York Times and Indie Bestseller
A Barnes & Noble Bookclub Pick for 2021
A Junior Library Guild Selection

“I fell in love with this haunting, futuristic world and the sisters searching for each other in it. Joan He’s words will stay with you long after the final page.”MARIE LU, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Skyhunter

“An intricate, well-paced rumination on human nature, choice, and consequence.” — PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY, starred review

“Whimsical and gut-wrenching. He grafts deep moral and ethical questions to a page-turning premise, making this sci-fi standalone an excellent book club selection.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Much like the floating cities within its pages, this book is a perfect synthesis of high-tech futurism and dreamlike imagery. Gripping, heartfelt, and joyously cerebral, this is a story to dive into and let its twisting currents pull you into a strange, clever, and startlingly original world.” —EMILY SUVADA, author of This Mortal Coil

“Exhilarating and heartbreaking…this fast-paced scifi tale is sure to linger.” —BOOKLIST

Praise for ‘Descendant of the Crane’

“Deep world-building & intricate palace politics kept me guessing until the end.”
— RACHEL HARTMAN, New York Times bestselling author of Seraphina

“Sophisticated storytelling and a captivating world. In a sea of YA fantasy, this book stands on its own.”
— ADRIENNE YOUNG, New York Times bestselling author of Sky in the Deep

“Hesina is a heroine for the ages—brilliant, determined, and fierce.”
— LAURA SEBASTIAN, New York Times bestselling author of Ash Princess

“Top-notch thriller and complex characters…Should appeal to teens and adults alike.”

✭ “Compelling, immersive…highly original.”
— FOREWORD, starred review

“With complex world-building and character development, readers tired of cookie-cutter stories will find some surprise twists here.”

“A fully realized history helps make this adventure, rooted in Chinese folklore, feel epic.”

An Interview with Joan He

1. Let’s talk about the inspiration behind Strike the Zither. What drew you to the Three Kingdoms novelization?

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching these old Chinese war epics with my parents, and so diving into Three Kingdoms felt like coming home. Three Kingdoms also felt strangely fitting for a YA story despite the novelization being populated by middle-aged men because every character is so distinct and bigger than life.

2. How did you approach reimagining this epic piece of Chinese history to a mainstream audience who may be unfamiliar with the original story?

Much in the same way I approach all of my books: first, I write the story for myself. Then I share it with my mom, who is one of my biggest fans. It was important to me that no knowledge of Three Kingdoms be necessary, because while my mom knows the major historical figures from the source, she hasn’t read the 800,000 word text in its entirety—and I know she’s not alone in that. And I so wanted to make sure my book was enjoyable to her, even if you wouldn’t necessarily think of her—someone who immigrated to the US in her thirties, for whom English is a second language—as the mainstream YA audience.

3. Obviously, many of the classic Chinese stories include Confucian thoughts and beliefs. How did you incorporate them but also keep a modern take?

I’ve always believed that culture colors more than just the setting. It dictates the things people value and the paths in life they take without questioning. This couldn’t be more evident than in Three Kingdoms: the relationship between Liu Bei, the lord, and Zhuge Liang, the strategist, is so deeply steeped in Confucian values that it has no Western equivalent. One would think that a war strategist as competent as Zhuge Liang wouldn’t follow a leader as Liu Bei, and would instead name himself king and lead his own armies like Napoleon. But no—Zhuge Liang was loyal not only to Liu Bei, but also to Liu Bei’s son, for no personal reason. He probably didn’t even consider Liu Bei a close friend. Why, then, did he serve the Liu surname to his death? Because Confucianism.

And I did my best to preserve this almost abstract, fated nature of their relationship as best I could without, say, having my Zhuge Liang owe Liu Bei a life debt.

The patriarchal society that Confucianism upheld at the time, on the other hand, is something I deviated from deliberately. Just as there’s no real reason outside of the era’s cultural norms as to why Zhuge Liang followed Liu Bei, there’s also no real reason why all the major characters in the story had to be men.

4. You’ve mentioned that the idea of labels and identity are at the heart of STRIKE THE ZITHER–how you felt defined by social labels you were given, but how you also adhered to those labels because it was more comfortable. Many people (young people especially) can relate to this. Can you elaborate on how your personal experiences with social labels and identity manifested in STRIKE THE ZITHER?

In STRIKE THE ZITHER, Zephyr finds comfort and power in leaning into the persona of a strategist because in her eyes, it’s better to be seen—and remembered—as a strategist than an nameless orphan. In this way, she’s similar to me, because I too wanted to be perceived as not just “the Asian” in a predominantly white school. But over time, I found my chosen labels to be limiting in their own ways, just like Zephyr does in the book.

5. How did you find that writing STRIKE THE ZITHER differed from writing your other books?

The biggest difference came from the main character. Hesina (DOTC) and Kasey (TOWMTF) both have arcs of finding confidence through the story, Zephyr from STRIKE THE ZITHER is sure of herself from the start. While this is probably much further from who I was a teen, there’s a certain sort of escapism to that cocky, too-smart-for-her-own-good type of character.

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