Review – The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
  • Writing - 7/10
  • Plot development - 7/10
  • Overall - 7/10
User Review
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The Library of Legends by Janie Chang is a literary fantasy that can pull you out of our current moment and into the past.


The Library of Legends

In 1937, China and Japan are at war. Japan is taking over China city by city, starting with bombs and ending with occupations. When the Japanese start bombing Nanking, Minghua University’s students must evacuate. As they evacuate, they bring along the eponymous volumes, which detail the most important of the Chinese legends. However, some members of the community start to realize the legends may be more relevant than previously thought.

Janie Chang - The Library of Legends
Janie Chang – The Library of Legends

We primarily follow three members of the university’s community. The first is Hu Lian, a scholarship student who wants to find her mother. The second is Liu Shaoming, a young scion who just seems to be biding his time. Finally, Shao’s maidservant Sparrow, who is much more than she seems. These three, and many others, travel throughout China to find a way to reconstruct their university. Along the way, the students deal with striking hardships and possible espionage. 

Plot Development

Chang wrote The Library of Legends in close third person, jumping around when she felt a new perspective was needed. This stylistic method gets a bit jumpy at times, but the overall writing is very smooth. The reader knows more than almost all of the characters, but not in a “yell at the book” sort of manner.

As in many plots where a journey is undergone, the pacing is buoyed by the journey. As the university treks on, our protagonists get more enmeshed with each other and with the various other members of the community. The path before the reader and characters twists and turns, but not in a shocking way for the former. (Twists and turns are always more shocking for the characters experiencing them.) The ending of the book is not what I would describe as cheery, but that would have upended the book unpleasantly. 

Conclusion: The Library of Legends May Pull You Out of the Current Moment

I thought The Library of Legends was a charming read. Even though the university is put through a near-impossible odyssey, they are very different than our current hardships, nor is Chang too graphic in their description. It can be reassuring to read about other people’s problems, even if they are difficult ones.

This is a literary fantasy novel, so there are fewer fantastical elements than our readers may be used to. If you’re looking towards branching out to historical fiction in these strange times, this would be a good start. On the other hand, if you want to convince a loved one to get interested in fantasy, this could also be a great place to start.

If you’re considering buying this book, please remember local stores.  While you may not have a store local to you, many people’s local stores are shipping around the country. Here is a list someone compiled regarding open bookstores. If you can’t decide between bookstores, you can buy from Barnes and Noble (important to the book market, even if it is a franchise) or from

Will you check out The Library of Legends? What are you reading during this pandemic? Discuss books with us on social media!


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