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Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Background information when reading Strike the Zither

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Strike the Zither

Kingdom of Three #1

by Joan He

Strike the Zither by Joan He X
Strike the Zither by Joan He
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 368 pages

    Mar 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

This article relates to Strike the Zither

Print Review

Strike the Zither tells the story of Zephyr, a brilliant strategist working to help warlordess Xin Ren gain the throne of the realm. As she outsmarts foes human and supernatural alike, Zephyr must acknowledge her fate and decide how far she's willing to go to see Ren on the throne. Zither is a tale of strong females fighting for their place in the empire and a brilliant reimagining of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a classic Chinese novel that glorifies China's Three Kingdoms period.

covers of various translations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE) began after the Han Dynasty fell to natural disasters and rebellion. Afterwards, the nation divided into the titular three kingdoms—Wei, Shu and Wu—each led by vicious warlords seeking to gain control of all of China. Eventually, the Shu and Wu kingdoms were conquered and the Jin Dynasty was established, bringing an end to the Three Kingdoms period. Although this period lasted only 60 years, it was one of the bloodiest times in Chinese history. According to a census in the twilight years of the Han Dynasty, the nation's population was approximately 56 million; when China was reunified briefly during the Jin Dynasty, a new census reported a population of only 16 million, indicating that, even accounting for any inaccuracies in reporting, millions of Chinese had fallen to the period's constant warfare, as well as from famine and disease that resulted from the unrelenting conflict.

Despite being a short, bloody time in Chinese history, the Three Kingdoms period has become one of the nation's most storied eras, prompting the creation of one of its most famous works of literature. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 14th-century novel whose authorship is attributed to famous Chinese writer Luo Guanzhong. Considered one of the foundational classic novels of Chinese literature, Three Kingdoms is an epic saga that blends the history of the Three Kingdoms period with Chinese legends. Using available historical records, Luo describes the fall of the Han Dynasty and the rise of the three warring kingdoms, and although many of the events in the novel are believed to be historically accurate, Luo dramatizes the chaos of the time, elevating real-life generals, politicians and warlords to immortal heroes, legendary villains and powerful monsters. The resulting work is a literary masterpiece that is often described as China's Iliad and, at 800,000 words, is significantly longer than Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Over the centuries, the global popularity of Luo's work has led to its adaptation into many different formats, including art, film, anime, literature, computer games and classical Chinese dance.

Joan He's reimagining of this classic Chinese novel has several significant changes—genderbending the main characters, playing up the supernatural elements and changing Zephyr's fate—but the result is a fitting tribute to the heart of Luo's story. Strike the Zither is an epic and intelligent YA fantasy that successfully adapts Romance of the Three Kingdoms for a new audience.

Various translations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in print, courtesy of

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Jordan Lynch

This "beyond the book article" relates to Strike the Zither. It originally ran in November 2022 and has been updated for the March 2024 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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