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The Library of Legends

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From the author of Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road comes a captivating historical novel in which a convoy of student refugees travel across China, fleeing the hostilities of a brutal war with Japan

 “Myths are the darkest and brightest incarnations of who we are . . .”

China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.

During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.

400 pages, Paperback

First published May 12, 2020

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About the author

Janie Chang

7 books928 followers
Janie Chang grew up listening to stories about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War and tales of ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals. Her novels, THREE SOULS and DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD were nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award. DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD was a Canadian national bestseller. Her third novel THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS was a Canadian national bestseller and a Book of the Month Club selection. Her latest novel THE PORCELAIN MOON is set in WWI France and brings to readers the forgotten history of the 140,000 Chinese workers sent to the Western Front. THE PHOENIX CROWN, a novel co-authored with Kate Quinn, releases in September 2023.

Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives on the Sunshine Coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada with her husband and Minnie, the cat also known as Princess Bossypants.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,557 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
May 13, 2020
This is a gorgeous Historical Fiction novel (based on a true tale of the Second-Sino Japanese war), with mysticism and folklore.
The storytelling is both enchanting and heartbreaking.

I’m a Janie Chang fan!!! I love reading her books.
This is my third.
“Three Souls” was magical ... beautiful....
“Dragon Spring Road” was equally beautiful and brilliant as “Three Souls”.

“The Library of Legends” has a slightly different feeling than Janie Chang’s other two books.
It was more political and even has a murder mystery..... which her first two books don’t have....
but the tragedy in this novel triggered parallel thoughts with our current coronavirus unsettling days.

Japanese bombs were falling on Nanking in 1937.
Students who were attending Minghua University walked thousand of miles across China, to the safety of the western province.
123 students, and professors walked and even studied together along their journey. They while starving, exhausted, and aching to see their families, while fearing being attacked before reaching safety.

We are transported back to wartime evaluation days. The atmosphere was vivid.
The students were instructed to each carry a ‘treasured’ ancient - highly valued- library book - [The Library of Legends], and protect it as they would their own life.... with the purpose of keeping the knowledge, mystic legends, and the gods protected.

Friendships develop, romance develops, ( characters become real), legend Chinese cultural stories are learned.
All the while we are anxious about safety.... and hoping the students will re-unite with their families again.

I love both Chinese and Japanese stories -
I’ve read other books that take place in 1937 ... when the Japanese was bombing Nanking. The history is important- but often forgotten... ( in the shadow of Pearl Harbor).... so I love when books honor stories during this time period.
I especially enjoyed learning about the historical legends of the treasured ancient library texts—the spiritual meaning and power they had on people and their beliefs.

Janie Chang is a gifted atmospheric storyteller. Readers are put at ease with her lovely prose and intimacy.

This is a great choice pick for
“Quarantine Comfort” reading!!!

Beautiful book!!!!

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
May 21, 2020
3.5 I love reading about events in history that I knew nothing about and the authors who bring them into the reading light of day. It is 1937 and the official start of the second Sino-japanese War and China has ordered the evacuation of their middle schools and Universities. Hoping to save thier brightest young for the future. This is the story of one such University and the students, students who will travel a thousand miles to China's interior. They also carry with them, in the hopes of protecting, volumes of books, containing the Library of Legends. This also corresponds to an actual book whose title is given in the authors note.

Lin, Shao and a maidservant, Sparrow are the main characters. It is through their main eyes that we follow the happenings and anxieties of both a personal and politically dangerous trip. What adds to this story are the Chinese legends, particularly the Willow Star and the Prince. In a bright burst of magic and brilliant colors, various God's are traveling home to take their places in the heavens. Those mortals like Lin and Dr Kang, who are enlightened enough to see this spectacle, are treated to amazing spectacles that will never be forgotten.

Little known history, with some wonderful characters, mixed with legend and magical realism made this a wonderful read. Authors note and Q & A at books end answers for the background and actual events in the novel.

ARC from Librarything.
Profile Image for Kate Quinn.
Author 39 books23.1k followers
May 15, 2020
I read this for a cover quote--Janie Chang and I are friends, though I read and enjoyed her books before I met her--and this one enthralled me. THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS is a gorgeous, poetic journey threaded with mist and magic about a group from a Chinese university who take to the road to escape the Japanese invasion of 1937 – only to discover that danger stalks them from within. Pure enchantment!
Profile Image for Annette.
763 reviews335 followers
June 17, 2020
“The exodus of Chinese universities and middle schools began in 1937, the official start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.” The purpose of schools relocating to China’s interior was about “safeguarding the nation’s intellectual legacy, so necessary for building the future.”

China, 1937. Nineteen-year-old Hu Lian has been studying at Minghua University in Nanking. She comes from a humble family. She is one of only three students awarded scholarship. Now, due to Japanese bombing the city, the students are ordered to flee. Since most of China is illiterate, the university students are valued highly. Men are not allowed to enlist as soldiers. The students are evacuating to a wartime campus in Changtu. A journey which takes 1,000 miles is marked by constant aerial attack. They are also assigned to transport the Library of Legends – valued books of Chinese myths and folklore. Each student carries one book and they are assigned to read the stories as they travel. Even during the war, they continue their lessons, which is very inspiring and I was looking forward to that aspect.

With the myths and folklore, the Gods and fairies come out of the pages of the books the students are reading. I didn’t expect a fantasy aspect in this story, which is brief and I was glad for that as I’m not a fantasy reader. There is one immortal who takes part in the story from the beginning to the end, but she is a guardian spirit. And this actually gives the story a nice touch.

On this long journey, there is plenty of time to get to know other fellow students. Lian recognizes Shao, who comes from a wealthy family and at school was very popular for his good-looks. She develops feelings for him and looks “for signs that might reveal his feelings.” At the same time, she tries to remind herself that they come from very different backgrounds.

I enjoyed both characters, but I wanted to get to know them even better.

When they have longer resting stays for a few days or weeks at one place, they have classes. I was looking forward to those classes exploring their assigned reads. At first, there is just a mention of those classes and later there is more to it. But again, I wished there was even more to those classes, to come through more vividly, adding more texture to this story.

During their journey, they suffer hardship, cold and hunger. But this is more related in words than in action. This is something that I wanted to feel, but didn’t.

The setting of this book during the conflict between China and Japan doesn’t bring the details of that conflict. It’s more a general setting during a war time.

4.5 stars. Overall, it is an enjoyable read with smooth writing. However, vividness could be explored more to create a deeper connection with the characters and what they go through.

Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,229 reviews2,212 followers
April 10, 2020
2020 review:

**Full transparency - Janie Chang wrote my all time favorite book "Three Souls" and sent me an ARC of "The Library of Legends" early. THANK YOU Janie for sending me this!!**

Let me begin by stating the obvious - I did not give this 5 stars like I did Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road. I was slightly disappointed in this book for two reasons that were my own fault:
1) my expectations were absolutely THROUGH THE ROOF
2) this wasn't the book I was expecting... because I didn't read the synopsis lol

Also, let me say right up; I HIGHLY recommend this book for fans of Fantasy books who want to get into historical/Lit fic!! This would be SUCH a great stepping stone for people like that because this is historical/lit fic but has MANY elements you'd find in a fantasy novel
- plot/event based
- large cast of characters and POV switches
- folklore/magic/DRAGONS
- Star-crossed lovers
- Characters traveling from one place across the country to another
- amazing world building!!

The unfortunate part is, I'm not a big fan of fantasy, so I was waiting for this book to be a literary fiction similar to TS or DSR, which it simply wasn't. I applaud Janie for trying something new, and I think this book will work for a LOT of people. I'm hoping if I reread it, it will get that full 5stars, but I guess I'm selfish and just want Leiyin all over again lol

Things I liked:
- the plot was SO interesting! Love the use of folklore and myths
- so. much. history. I feel like Janie's books teach me more about China than any class did
- the characters were really interesting and fleshed out
- VERY gripping! Kept me wanting to read every time I put it down
- The writing is very simple but still beautiful
- weirdly timely?? It was very strange but reading about this war and the bombings of Nanking and the conversations about war and trauma WEIRDLY are being talked about today in 2020 with the covid-19 pandemic. Terrifying but timely.

Things I disliked:
- I'm not a big fan of the "characters traveling from one place to another"
- I felt the dialogue was quite stilted and didn't let the characters open up to each other or show the building of relationships
- I wish we got more about the library! We got a few myths which I LOVED and I wanted more!

I'll be adding more to this review and also posting my videos closer to the release day - MAY 12, 2020!!

2018 pre-release:






Profile Image for Danielle.
525 reviews35 followers
April 28, 2020
I didn't really enjoy this book for a few reasons: the arrogant, mindless but rich male protagonist was unlikeable to me, the female protagonist didn't seem to have a mind of her own, the writing was a bit simplistic for not being YA. I guess I expected more from this book when I read the summary.

The story takes place during world war II in China among University students. A group of the students must travel from their campus to another part of China that isn't being attacked by the Japanese. They are protecting a collection of ancient manuscripts and books that contain Chinese mythology and folklore. There's a supernatural, mystical element to it as well... One of these travelers is a god in mortal form who guides and helps along the way. Will they reach their destination safely? Will the books of mythology be destroyed? Will the main protagonists reach their individual goals?

It's a cool idea for a book, but I thought it was a little simple, repetitive, childish, and unbelievable as relating to the characters and their seemingly "one dimensioned" personalities. Just not my cup of tea. Maybe a teenager would like this...not to insult the teenager. But I suppose that I am looking for something a little bit more heavy and believable... Along the lines of literary fiction.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
March 5, 2020
Stunning novel that manages so many facets of good ole fashion story telling. A dynamic tale set between opposing matters of rule in 1937 China where wealthy children of the ruling oligarchy have only adjusted to adulthood, students who now have their illusions shattered as they flee into the impoverished interior with little food security or even protection from the elements. They come face to face with those in pursuit of communism versus nationalism and an the additional challenge they face the consequences of Japan's attacks and bombing. As Japan, takes possession of larger coastal cities including Nanking, the Capitol. They look to their beloved Professor Kang, who leads them through many obstacles while still managing to encourage them to pursue their education in the most challenging of circumstances. Beyond this the story effortless encompasses in its inclusion of multiple story lines, which features: interesting characters and their connections to each other; poverty; spies; with an added dash of romance and fantasy.

It's a beautiful allegory which displays how when people are unified for a higher purpose, they can achieve their objectives. Over a hundred universities relocated to the interior of China to escape the Japanese occupation during the following years, many thousands leaving coastal port cities in an effort to escape the occupation and control the region for Japan. Many walked for weeks, some got transported in areas where roads remained or train tracks had not been bombed yet. This fascinated me because I know so little about this portion of the World War II. I know my uncle fought as an officer in Naval Intelligence in the Pacific Theater but I never had his attention long enough to pick his brain before he passed. My Father's parents were from Europe and my maternal grandfather as well, so my parents focused on the European aspect of World War II (they were students in High School). While it is rather light on details (I would have liked more), I suspect most will think the focus on war experiences was more than adequate. I like stories that include historical details that underlie the story, to me it makes the situations more real and relevant.

I typically avoid fantasy and romance genre's as a rule but both were highly engaging and enriched the over-all tale that I actually enjoyed those portions. The focus was on a library which focused on legends or myths that focused on municipal gods, regional gods in various forms, we even see a visitation by unicorns. There is one specific story line that make this especially fascinating. I derived much enjoyment as a result (no spoilers, no matter how much you beg).

This has all the markings of a classic. As far as Asian genre's geared to English speakers, I have to say that I prefer this contemporary tale to some of the books written by Lisa See. Janie Chang qualifies as an expert in this genre. While the ending hinted at a conclusion, I gather from the notes that followed, that a sequel maybe in the making. I say, publish it and I'll be reading it!

If it is made into a movie (which I think it translate, no pun intended, to the big screen), I'd watch it.

Thank you to Goodreads, author, Janie Chang and William Morrow for providing me with this delightful work in exchange for a review. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

4.5 stars, rounded up!
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
383 reviews255 followers
May 28, 2020
3.5 stars

The first thought that popped into my head after I finished reading this book was how different it turned out to be from what I had expected. From a historical perspective, this is a story I greatly appreciated, as it covered a portion of history not widely known, set during a time period not often depicted in novels about the World War II era. The year is 1937 in Nanjing, China — as Japanese bombs begin to fall on the city, students and faculty at various schools are ordered to evacuate, heading 1000 miles on a journey toward the safety of China’s western provinces. Minghua University student Hu Lian and her classmates, led by revered teacher Professor Kang, head toward the city of Chengdu, where the university will reassemble to wait out the end of the war. The journey is tenuous, as the students not only need to avoid the constant threat of Japanese air raids, they also need to make much of the trip on foot. Additionally, the Minghua students have also been tasked with the responsibility of bringing with them one of the university’s greatest treasures — a set of encyclopedias containing ancient myths and folklore collectively known as the Library of Legends. Along the way, Lian grows close to several of her schoolmates, including second year classmates Yee Meirong and Wu Ying-Ying as well as wealthy fourth year classmate Liu Shaoming and his maidservant Sparrow Chen. But Lian lives in the shadow of a family secret that she has carried with her most of her life — a secret that, if found out, she fears could destroy everything she worked so hard to achieve. Later in the journey, Lian discovers a connection between those in her group and the story of The Willow Star and the Prince, which is one of the mythological tales contained in the Library of Legends. Beyond that though, Lian soon learns that transporting the books awakens various immortals and guardian spirits who are headed on a journey of their own.

Overall, I enjoyed this story well enough, but I wasn’t as mesmerized by it as I thought I would be. Part of the reason is because, while I liked most of the characters, they were written in a way that I found it difficult to connect with them. I felt there was a lack of emotional depth to the characters (and to the story itself, in some aspects), which made it hard for me to feel anything for them when various things happen. Also, the crossing over of genres – this one incorporated historical fiction, romance, and fantasy -- didn’t work as well for me in this instance. I think the problem for me is that I was expecting the story to lean more toward historical fiction and perhaps feel a little more “epic” in scope (especially given the premise and the setting), but instead the historical elements were too brief and, in my opinion, mostly overshadowed by the fantasy aspects with the mythological tale involving The Willow Star and the Prince and the love story associated with it. Some parts of the story felt a bit all over the place and didn’t flow together as well as it could have, which I think was due to the attempt to blend multiple genres. The story did have a light-hearted, hopeful tone to it though, which made it a good choice to read during this time of uncertainty.

With historical fiction, I oftentimes enjoy reading the Author’s Note almost as much as reading the story itself, and this instance was no different. Reading about the real life events that certain details in the story were based on and seeing how the author adapted these details is always fascinating and, for me, the additional insight often puts the fictional story in better perspective. Prior to reading this book, I had heard about the evacuation and temporary relocation of China’s universities during the war, but had not read anything substantive about it until now. I appreciate that author Janie Chang decided to cover this largely overlooked historical event, though of course, I would’ve preferred for the historical aspect to be stronger as I had mentioned earlier. But that’s just me – overall, this was still a worthy read, one that I would heartily recommend, especially for those who enjoy historical fiction with quite a bit of fantasy (more along the lines of magical realism I guess) mixed in.

Received ARC from William Morrow (HarperCollins) via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Holly Fairall (birdbrainbooks).
536 reviews37 followers
April 22, 2020
2.5 - This book on paper sounds like everything I normally love: historical fiction in a vivid time and setting with some fantastical elements. Unfortunately I can’t say I enjoyed this one. There was a promising story here but it just never pulled me in. I never got invested in the characters—they felt extremely flat, as did the writing throughout. The story itself basically follows this group of students and faculty trekking across China for 220 pages and then follows a few of them all the way back for another 100 pages, without much ever really happening. It was all logistics getting from here to there. The actual Library of Legends plays a much more peripheral role than expected. The love story element was extremely tepid, at best. The very end improved a bit and it’s too bad because there was a lot of promise if there had been more focus and more riveting writing; but overall I have to say I was disappointed.
January 15, 2022
I absolutely loved this book! Love, war, historical fiction, mythology...yes yes yes! Beautifully written. Emotional and just I can't gush enough. I really enjoyed this one. The representation does get to my heart, so that may be why I felt even more love for it. I would definitely recommend this to family and friends or even gift it to them.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,271 reviews556 followers
July 11, 2020
This book absolutely enchanted me. And it wasn't just Luin, Shao or any of the main characters either. It was the "eyes" and voice of this long story. How it flowed in and out of the majestic, magical - from one earthy sphere of misery to another of wise joy or tranquil ponder or musical vibrant throbs at a point of a pin. It's hard to explain. It's called magic realism when done in the Western Hemisphere "eyes" sense- but this was something quite different. It fused the past of China into the very mesh of the fabric that WAS China. When the immortals left the fabric of that identity? What's left becomes almost a stomped plastic or synthetic tarp in comparison.

Regardless of the politico aspects- the entire was just at the tops for my 2020 reads. The year half over and this is absolutely in the top 5 fiction I've read so far.

I'll read all her others. Her people are authentic with quirks, personality fissures, emotive or mental baggage claims and superbly physically defined. And this plot, mostly chronological, was in the journey and in the purposes for that journey- just a full star 5 out of 5.

Life is so fleeting and cheap in individual lifespan here. The era so horrendous. You would think that would obscure the values (immense depth) for family, the loyalty, the stubbornness depicted? No, not at all. The Star Willow and her Prince and all the messages to the beings that needed to leave and get in the Gate before it closed- it twisted the entire. It turned the vile and the sordid to quite the opposite.

Knowing the entire stages of Chinese history after this year or two, and especially after WWII- it made me wonder if the gods and the beings will ever "come back". Their time is over but the humans still have capacity to dwell in their protections.

Highly recommend this journey. Loved the map too. SO GLAD I met this book just at the right juncture to give it the extra time and attention it requires and deserves. Chang can write. AND she ALSO can tell a tale. Some authors can do one and not the other. Sparrow glows in my memory.
Profile Image for Deborah.
736 reviews48 followers
August 13, 2021
As the Japanese were bombing Nanking, China in 1937, arrangements were made for the remaining students, professors, and staff of Minghau University to evacuate to the safety of Chengtu over 1,000 miles away. Broken into sections, each group left separately carrying only what was necessary as they would be traveling mainly on foot at night to avoid being detected. Dean of Literature Professor Kang led the final group of 114 students, 9 professors, and 16 servants/laborers who called themselves Minghau 123. They were transporting the famed Library of Legends, 147 books of all that remained of the original 11,000 volumes of China’s art, treasure, culture, folklore, and myths. Each student was tasked to carry and to read a volume. They continued to be taught and to learn on the road as their educated minds were greatly valued to rebuild the war-torn China. The quiet second year scholarship student Hu Lian, graduate assistant Shen; handsome and wealthy 4th-year student Liu Shaoming “Shao”; his faithful and resourceful maidservant, Sparrow Chen; the beautiful 4th-year student and Communist sympathizer Wang Jenmei; and sociable second-year student Yee Meirong all journeyed on this traveling campus. Friendships grew as they traversed the country seeking shelter and food and encountering poverty, hardship, destruction, and death due to the ravages of war.

Underlying was the tale of the Willow Star and the Prince, a love between a star and a mortal, who was killed. The immortal star had lived on for centuries in the Prince’s many reincarnations. She could never take him home to the heavens unless he remembered their love as she was forbidden to share their past. Also, there were immortals, gods, and spirits who had been stirred to make their own exodus.

The description of the time and place felt very realistic and I loved the blend of fact, fiction, and fantasy. During the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, China began moving its universities and middle schools to the interior to safeguard their intellectual future. The author’s father as a refugee and nomadic student was part of this migration encompassing 77 colleges and universities by 1941. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews57 followers
April 21, 2022
I am now a part of a book club on Bookstagram called The Bookstorians. We read a historical fiction book every two months. Our first selection is The Library of Legends by Janie Chang. The story takes place in China during WWII. The Japanese are invading and bombing major cities. When the bombs fall on Nanking, Minghua University has to evacuate. One hundred and twenty-three students and staff must journey across China. They need to take with them The Library of Legends which is a collection of stories, legends, and myths that are critical to the culture of China. Lian carries a family secret. One that puts her education…and her life in danger. She also can’t ignore her feelings for Liu Shaoming. He comes from a wealthy and prominent family. As they travel, they are assigned to read through The Legends. Lian begins to make connections between Liu Shaoming and his servant, Sparrow. Their lives will be forever changed by this journey…

I wish I knew where to begin with this beautiful story.

It is history.
It is legend.
It is romance.
It is suspense.

There is so much happening in this book. There are moments when the pace slows down, but that is due to the plot development. Trust me, just power through those sections. At first, I thought the sole focus would be WWII and the bombings, but that is just the background. The author adds a bit of mysticism. The legends are real. The world is filled with immortals, guardians, and spirits. But the gate is closing and their time on Earth is coming to an end. One of my favorite characters is Professor Kang. He is more of a supporting character but he is wise and kind. But I fell in love with his passion and concern for The Legends. The survival of these stories is critical for their culture.

Then there is a murder. This murder shows the political upheaval going through China. Communism is on the rise but also illegal. But there are those who no longer want their beliefs to be secret. This aspect of the novel is utterly fascinating as it shows the complexity that will change China’s politics forever. But in regards to the novel, it adds of murder mystery plotline and gives the story a little suspense.

Don’t get me started on the romance. It is beautiful and heart-wrenching. But I can’t spoil anything.

The writing is absolutely poetic and completely magical. She is able to dive into finding humanity, compassion, and eternal love. I rate this beautiful book 4 out of 5 stars and this reignited my interest in folklore in China.

Also that cover?! Am I right?
Profile Image for Britta.
204 reviews
April 13, 2020
Historical fiction with a twist of folkloric fantasy-- a genre right up my alley!
I found the majority of the book to be somewhat tedious, however. I wish there had been more to the history and folklore and less to the romance.
I enjoyed the last quarter of the book the most (probably because that's when the most action and fantasy took place?), but I got a little bored with the unending account of the character's moods and march to safety during the first half of the book (a long march across China--historically relevant! Cool! Endless versions of the same situation: walking, flirting with each other -- tedious, took away from opportunity to elaborate on the real history or folklore). I think the author could have (should have?) easily combined two of the three genres she blended within this novel-- historical, fantasy, romance -- but trying for all three derailed them all a bit and left each one lacking, not fully formed. I feel the detail owed to the history of the folklore in the novel was lost in the attempt to add in a romantic plot, as well. More time was spent talking about Lian's meek demeanor (lame) and Shao's money and attractive outfits than anything of actual interest to me.

I'm still dissecting my feelings on this a bit, but overall I liked it. Didn't love it, but didn't hate it. If you like fluffy (but not sickly sweet) reading, this is a good option.
Profile Image for Stephanie Thornton.
Author 10 books1,316 followers
February 1, 2020
Atmospheric and beautifully told, Janie Chang has woven a tale that tugs on the threads of China's history and legend alike. Readers will find themselves immersed in this story of love amidst war, hope amidst sacrifice. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Celeste.
904 reviews2,339 followers
October 15, 2020
The synopsis for The Library of Legends sounded wonderful. This story takes place in China in 1937, when the city of Nanking falls to the Japanese. The narrative follows Lian, a scholarship student who is fleeing with her university to save not only themselves but the Library of Legends, an original collection of China’s fables and folklore that is integral to their national identity. Lian does her part to protect the Library, and I very much enjoyed this aspect of the story. As the journey progresses, we start to see these legends come to life on the periphery of the story, as the legends themselves begin to evacuate the mortal world.

There were so many excellent building blocks to this story. An interesting and well-developed setting, a dramatic and compelling plot, a respect for stories, a star-crossed romance, and even an element of mysticism were all present. But there was something about both the characters and the writing itself that just fell a bit flat for me. None of the characters ever felt tangible to me, which made them less than believable. I think this disconnect is directly linked to Chang’s writing style and choices in prose. Something about it just didn’t resonate with me as a reader.

Though I had my issues with The Library of Legends, I loved getting to learn more about a time and place with which I was fairly unfamiliar. I can see this novel appealing to a lot of readers, especially those who gravitate towards non-literary historical fiction.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
966 reviews100 followers
June 8, 2020
Well written, with likable characters, a vivid sense of place, a dash of magical realism, and an interesting plot, this novel will hold your interest to the end!

In 1937, the Japanese army invaded China. Amidst the turmoil and upheaval, universities began to evacuate their students to the country’s inland area. Education is highly valued in China, and the students were seen as being the nation’s intellectual treasure - necessary for rebuilding the country after the war, and for building the country’s future.

Lian Hu is a young university student who is part of a group of students tasked with bringing volumes of an ancient encyclopedia, The Library of Legends, dating back to the Ming Dynasty, to safety inland. The journey would be an arduous trek covering over 1,000 miles and would be done primarily on foot. As the students’ journey progresses, spiritual beings written about in the text are awakened. In addition, Lian begins to realize that not all of the students share the same thoughts and ideas, and that there are hidden dangers within their group.

This novel which combines Chinese folklore and history with a poignant love story is well worth the read!

Thank you to author Janie Chang, HarperCollins Publishers, and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read the ARC of this fascinating novel!
Profile Image for Lisa.
620 reviews233 followers
May 7, 2020
A memorable and mesmerizing love story amid a backdrop of war, politics, and folklore

The students at Minghua University are ordered to evacuate as Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking in 1937. Nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates, a convoy of more than a hundred students, faculty, and staff must walk a thousand miles to the safety of China’s western provinces. It’s a journey marked by hunger, cold, and the constant threat of aerial attack.

The student are asked to carry a priceless treasure on the journey, a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends. This story is based on true events and rich in Chinese history and lore,

Lian finds friendship and a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is murdered and another arrested, Lian realizes she must escape from the convoy before a family secret puts her in danger. Accompanied by Shao and his maidservant Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai, hoping to reunite with her mother. On the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince.

The LIBRARY OF LEGENDS is a delighful and dramatic tale of a heroic effort to preserve China’s intellectual and cultural history. Can you imagine walking a thousand miles? Not only has author Janie Chang enlightened us with a piece of China’s history but she has also creatively woven in a part of China’s folklore into the story.

The writing is captivating, tender and entertaining. My favorite part was reading about the magically spirits and immortals that the caravan unknowingly passed on their journey. The three main characters, Lian, Shao, and Sparrow were each delightfully developed and draw you into the story. The story has something for everyone...love, legends, murder, politics and history. A true gem of a novel.
Author Janie Chang has written two previous novels, Three Souls and Dragons Spring Road have been nominated for the 2019 international Dublin Literary Award. She was born in Taiwan, but has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband.

Thanks to Edelweiss and William Morrow for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher William Morrow
Published May 12, 2020
Review www.bluestockingreviews.com
Profile Image for Kate Baxter.
557 reviews39 followers
August 7, 2020
I was initally seduced by this book's exquisite cover art and was quicky drawn into an epic tale based upon historical fact. The book is beautifully written, drawing on the harsh realities of a China during World War II, yet, at the same time, incorporating a touch of magical realism. The 1,000+ mile walk to the western reaches of the empire built character, developed honor, loyalty as well as humility, and taught so much more than any classroom could deliver. The story incorporates a love of education, honor in protecting from destruction a cultural heritage, endurance, courage, compassion for others and an embracing love for humanity.

Author Janie Chang was inspired by the stories her father shared regarding his youth. He was one of the Nanking University students who walked all the way to Chongqing during the school's evacuation in 1937. Here she has honored her father and all those like him who managed to save themselves as well as a "seventy-thousand-volume encyclopedia of Chinese literature known as the "Siku Quanshu Wenlan Ge", from the machines of war in order to help rebuild their country upon the war's completion. She has written a beautiful and heartfelt story, full of love, loss, honor and pathos. I highly recommend this book.

I am grateful to author Janie Chang and Harper Collins publishers for having provided a complimentary advance reader's e-proof of this book. Their generosity, however, has not influenced this review - the words of which are mine alone.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,953 reviews485 followers
December 21, 2020
Set in 1937 China, The Library of Legends tells the true story of students and faculty from Chinese universities moving into China's interior to protect their educational and cultural heritage as Japanese troops approach. As the characters in the novel travel over a thousand miles, not only do they have to worry about the enemy army, they must also contend with the growing distrust of those who align themselves with the Communist Party. A beautifully written story of love and sacrifice in a time of war.

I want you to know our group has a special responsibility, because we carry with us something as valuable as your lives and just as irreplaceable.

I was hooked from beginning to end and this is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of 2020. The vivid descriptions allowed me to time travel and I felt that I was walking with the Minghua 123 as they slept in temples and walked starry-less nights keeping an ear open for enemy bombers. I loved the characters of Lian, Shao, Sparrow and Professor Kang. I thought the weaving of myths and legend into the narrative was just as interesting as the historical detail. A fantastic novel that I would definitely recommend!

Goodreads review published 21/12/20
Profile Image for Preslava.
458 reviews9 followers
May 21, 2020
A poetic love letter to China's mythology and culture. These kind of books are the reason I fell in love with reading - they enrich your knowledge and make you almost feel like you have lived in another place. When they say whoever reads books has lived a thousand lives, they mean books like this one. I absolutely loved it!!!
Profile Image for Alyssa.
448 reviews19 followers
May 4, 2020
I hated this book so much that I managed to sell it and mail it off within an hour of finishing it.

I was excited to read this at first. I’ve been interested in the Rape of Nanking ever since finishing the Poppy War, so when I heard that this was about a university evacuation during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, I was stoked. Throw in an exodus of Chinese gods, star-crossed lovers, and communist intrigue, and you’re bound to have an interesting book, right?

Wrong. This book somehow managed to take the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, Chinese mythology, star-crossed lovers, and make them all boring. And the more I think about that, the more that makes me unreasonably angry.

There was almost nothing I liked about this. The characters? All flat and static. You can sum all of the main characters up in one or two sentences. Lian is meek but resilient. Shao is rich, searching for purpose, and apparently every single female character wants him, although lord knows why because he was boring. Sparrow is ultra devoted to Shao. That’s it.

The prose? It fell as flat as the characters. This is an adult book, but if you were to judge it by prose alone, you’d think it was for a more juvenile age group. The dialogue? Horribly, horribly, horribly stilted.

The plot? Not engaging. I thought the Library of Legends would be important, considering the teachers kept telling the students what a task it was to safeguard them, but they weren’t important after all. The pacing was slow and repetitive. The students walk a bunch, arrive at a destination, a few exchanges between students and teachers happen, then they keep walking again. Rinse and repeat. Exactly two interesting things happened, and when they did, I sat up and paid attention, sure that the book was about to pick up. But it never did. Even the second half, which other reviews swore up and down was more interesting than the first half, was slow and uninteresting. It didn’t really even feel like there was much of a climax. Or maybe there was. If that was the case, then I was so uninvested in the character arcs that the book was not interesting even at the end.

I wasn’t even affected much by the war, because I didn’t care about any of the characters who died or got affected by the war. That makes this the first war-based book that made me feel nothing. (Although, honestly, I should have probably expected that in the first chapter, when Nanking is literally getting bombed and Lian keeps thinking about how attractive Shao is while it’s happening. Why did I expect this to improve after that? I don’t know.)

Chang often did do a good job at really placing me in 1930s China. And I like the idea of Chinese gods leaving China while it’s on the verge of historic change. Those are really the only good things I can say about this.

The Library of Legends has a great concept, but poor execution. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I didn’t DNF this, because I really struggled to get through it. It’s only around 350 pages and it has a big font, so it’s not long, but I managed to churn through three other books in the time it took me to read this one.

Maybe you’d enjoy it, but I did not. I’m sure there are better books about the 2nd Sino-Japanese War.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,843 reviews516 followers
June 10, 2020
This is another one those historical fiction books that makes me realize I need to read some nonfiction about the subject if I want to actually learn something. I made it about a third of the way through the book and was really bored. Up to that point, college students had trekked along carrying books of historical significance, a communist student had tried to convert her classmates and the protagonist had mooned over another of the students (who actually seemed to attract everyone). This just wasn’t for me. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Christine.
109 reviews68 followers
January 6, 2022
Set in China circa 1937 a pivotal time in the country’s history - Japan seeks to colonize, Nationalist Chinese struggling with Communist for political power, and mass citizens on the move to avoid bombings and the approaching Japanese troops, Hu Lian and her classmates set on a journey to escape. The author does a wonderful job setting the story in the times and depicting the constant hostile suspicions between the Nationalist and Communist political camps all the while trying to save precious books of ancient Chinese legends and folklore. I was genuinely surprised that the story then skewed toward a more mystical and fantasy quality to the novel. Had it stayed on its more historical-fiction path rather than the fantasy one, I probably would have enjoyed it more.
536 reviews5 followers
December 17, 2020
I chose this book for my BOM (April 2020) choice for 3 reasons. 1- I thought it had a pretty cover. 2- It’s an early release. 3- Because it’s subject matter is not something that I would normally choose to read. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. The magical aspect contributed to the book without being overpowering or too much and made it seem more ‘legend’ like. I liked that a map was included so I could follow along on the trek through China, and I also enjoyed the Author’s Notes at the end. Overall, I’m glad I picked this book and didn’t put off reading it.
Profile Image for Tracy Frenette.
162 reviews17 followers
April 25, 2020
Beautiful story, it's historical fiction with a sprinkle of fantasy and romance. It was so well written that I felt like I was there with them. If you like historical fiction I would definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Sara Bruhns.
70 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2020
3.5 stars for a beautiful, atmospheric story that succeeded in transporting me into a wartime fairytale, but kept me at a bothersome distance from the characters.

The book follows Lian, Shao, and Sparrow on their walk across China with their university in 1937 while Japanese bombs fall all around them. The university students carry with them the Library of Legends, a centuries-old collection of myths and folklore that represents China’s culture. As they travel, gods, fairies, and other celestial beings are awakened and journey with them, lending beauty and wonder to counter the war horrors along the way. I had never learned about this chapter (or any other) of China’s history in school, so I appreciated the micro-history of this migration. And I loved the subtle but strong current of magic and wonder that ran throughout the story; it felt like reading a detailed fairytale that somehow took place in a real war in China. My only complaint was, although I did like the characters, I felt a kind of distance between them and me. Maybe this was because it’s written to feel like a fairytale, but I would have liked to feel closer to the characters. However, it was a beautiful story, perfect for anyone who loves fairytales, books, or unique tidbits of history.
Profile Image for Avanders.
433 reviews14 followers
February 10, 2020
Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy received in exchange for an honest review).

I was completely sucked in by the cover and title. Even though this is squarely in the historical fiction category, the description did nothing to dissuade me to seek this book out. Briefly, it's about a young adult student at University in China in 1937, during the Japanese-Chinese war. As bombs begin falling on her city, Nanking, she and the other students are forced to trek 1000 miles to safety, protecting their own lives as well as the priceless 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore called the Library of Legends.

The book covers heartache and growth, love and danger, death and murder, friendship and the strength of family. There is magical realism and/or mythology worked throughout the very engaging and heartbreaking story told here.

This is one of those "full" books. It is robust in its narrative and its setting, complex with emotions and characters, and thought-provoking of political and philosophical ideas, old and new. I loved meeting Hu Lian, Liu Shaoming, and especially Sparrow. And I found Professor Kang to be one of my favorite mentors. I was also impressed with Chang's "side" characters -- Shorty Ho, Mr. Lee, Meirong, Jenmei, and Dr. Mao, to name a few. I felt like I understood Lian's connections and distractions, confusion and conflict.

Finally, I was enamored with the countryside of China and found myself very interested in visiting some day. Even though the story takes place during wartime and is filled with heartache and famine, there was a beauty and strength in the people and their beliefs that I would love to meet firsthand.

I will definitely read more that Chang has written. I strongly recommend this book. 4.5 stars!
Profile Image for Kaylee.
233 reviews3 followers
April 26, 2020
This book was on the boring side. It really didn’t have much to do with the description on the book cover and nothing exciting happened throughout the book. The magical realism was interspersed, but it seemed irrelevant to the book and to its characters. In the end, the spirits in the book were never mentioned again and things were wrapped up quickly. Unfortunately, I missed the point of this story.
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