The gods didn’t give me ultimate strength. My friends and family did.
This! Book! I love it so much, and I know that it will be so important to many young Chinese and/or diaspora kids. Many thanks to Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours for letting me be part of this blog tour, and for sending me a physical arc to review! If I hadn’t seen Shealea’s sign-ups for this tour, I probably would never have picked The Dragon Warrior up, and what I shame that would’ve been.
This book is basically Chinese Percy Jackson, and I’m not saying this just because it’s in the same genre and age group. Like PJO, The Dragon Warrior centers around mythology, but has a modern take on gods and goddesses that portrays them in a less godly light. The prose and dialogue are brimming with sarcasm and actually drew a snicker from me once or twice! And in the same vein as PJO, this book is a quest story starring heroes who encounter many evil gods and monsters along the way.
We follow Faryn Liu, who is a member of the Jade Society, a Chinese group of demon-fighting warriors that emigrated to America. Though Faryn is a member of the Jade Society through the father’s side of her family, she and her brother are treated as outcasts because of their dad’s disappearance and their multiracial origins.
The plot takes place during the Lunar New Year celebrations, a time wherein demonic activity is most rampant. Amidst the celebrations, Faryn learns that she is the Heaven Breaker, destined to become the Jade Emperor’s general. But first, she must complete three tasks in the form of riddles. Joined by her brother Alex, her estranged best friend Moli, and Ren, a boy with a dragon living inside him, Faryn embarks on a quest across different Chinatowns in America to complete those three tasks.
Because of Faryn and Alex’s heritage, they were shunned by the Jade Society and forced to endure endless ridicule and bullying. At the beginning of the book, the only family both she and her brother have besides each other is their Ye ye (grandfather), and their relationship with him was so loving and heartwarming.
Faryn is prime main character material. Though incredibly snarky, she has a genuine love for others, especially for her family and friends. Of course, she doesn’t immediately adjust to her role as the Heaven Breaker, but she learns the works nicely, and it was so fun to follow her story.
I also love how gender roles were tackled because Faryn, though the sister, is the fighter, while Alex is the scholar. However, this is a source of insecurity for Alex, especially after Faryn becomes the Heaven Breaker and not him. I appreciated how Faryn and Alex’s relationship was crafted, because even though you can tell that they both love each other, they do get jealous of each other (or rather, Alex gets jealous of Faryn), and they have differing beliefs.
I can’t believe that this is a debut because the writing and pacing were so solid. Though this book has strong ties to Chinese mythology, something that isn’t familiar to many (including me), nothing is ever hard to grasp.
The Dragon Warrior is a love letter to Chinese kids and diaspora kids. And as a full Chinese girl who isn’t fluent in Mandarin or well-versed in Chinese customs, this book made me feel so validated, because it constantly sends out a message to diaspora kids that they are enough, and that they can be the hero of their own stories.
More About the Book
Publication date: 15 October 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids
Age group & genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Rep: multiracial (Chinese, Turkish, Greek, Egyptian) main character, almost full Chinese cast
Click for synopsis
As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.
Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon–and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.
With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized . . . What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?
Inspired by Chinese mythology, this richly woven contemporary middle-grade fantasy, full of humor, magic, and heart, will appeal to readers who love Roshani Chokshi and Sayantani DasGupta.
Click for content warningsdeath of a loved one, bullying, injuries
About the Author
Katie Zhao is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and a 2018 Masters of Accounting at the same university. She is the author of Chinese #ownvoices middle grade fantasy THE DRAGON WARRIOR (Bloomsbury Kids, October 2019 & 2020), as well as a young adult author. She is a mentor for Author Mentor Match. She is currently open to freelance editorial services for young adult and middle grade manuscripts.
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