Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Korean-based young adult fantasy featuring a female character not constricted to gender roles. What’s not to love here? I picked up the book solely on it being Korean-based in my effort to actively avoid fantasies based on a European-Medieval model. I’ve grown tired of that particular setting and I’m so glad to see that there are writers actively working against that typical backdrop. Now I’ll freely admit this up front; I’m ignorant about Korean culture and thus during much of my time reading this book I was looking up images to match with words I didn’t know. A great learning experience for me and I’d do it again honestly. But with that said, you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of Korean culture to get into this book.
At its core this is a great action adventure. The main character, Kira, consistently kicks butt throughout the story and one of the strengths of it is that the author knows how to write action. I didn’t have any issues visualizing the movements of Kira and her supporting cast as they battled their way through their foes. So don’t buy into the sexism and think boys couldn’t get into this story because it stars a girl. Of course, the very idea of blood and gore being primarily the interests of boys is sexist in itself…but we won’t go there.
So Kira is our guide through this story, but she’s surrounded by some great characters. Her older brother, Kwan, is an excellent companion and serves a bit as her anchor, keeping her steady. Then there’s Taejo, a young prince and her cousin that she has been sworn to protect since childhood. Along the way they meet Jaewon and Seung, a comedic duo that adds so much life into the story. I love them the most, especially Seung who is so genuinely innocent and seems to be the light of the story. Some of the minor characters have bigger moments as well that really stood out. The role of King Eojin, their uncle, played against my expectations a number of times and his sister pulled out quite the moment towards the end of the story.
There are some typical elements to the plot such as the fulfillment of a prophecy and the idea of the “one” but Ellen does succeed in turning that a bit on its head. Honestly, I could have done without so much focus on that, but it does sort of serve as the axis of the story so my gripe is perhaps a bit much. Also, I would have liked to have actually seen the demons instead of their possessions. But I have a feeling that might be rooted in some part of Korean culture I’m unfamiliar with.
Overall, this is a quick, fun read. You’ll like the characters and will root for them throughout the story. Don’t look for a lot of emotional heft and some of the heavier bits we’ve seen lately from fantasy. This book knows its audience and perfectly zooms in on that. There’s nothing wrong with that and in fact, it gave me a nice breather from some of the heavier books I’ve been reading as of late. That alone allows me to see the appeal and boom in YA among older readers. Prophecy can consider itself a part of that boom and I think its greatest contribution is diversity. For a Korean teen who’s never seen themselves in a fantasy book before, I’m sure this felt like absolute gold. And that’s why books like Prophecy have to exist.