It is with great pleasure I join the blog tour for Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao.
Xiran Jay Zhao is the #1 bestselling author of the Iron Widow duology. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their bio-chemistry degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.
My contribution to the blog tour will take the form of a book review.
Title: Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
Written by: Xiran Jay Zhao
Cover Design by: Karyn Lee
Cover illustration by: Velinxi
Published by: Rock the Boat
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is a fun, roller-coaster middle-grade fantasy with foundations in the real world. I must say that before I even opened the book I was captivated by the fantastic front cover designed by Karyn Lee and illustrated by Velinxi. It is absolutely gorgeous and had me mesmerised. The story follows twelve-year-old Chinese-American, Zachary Ying, who has been bought up by his mother first in New York and then in Maine, United States, after they escaped from the Chinese government.
In the same way as Rick Riordan uses Egyptian mythology in the Kane Chronicles and Greek mythology in his Percy Jackson series, author Xiran Jay Zhao, successfully uses Chinese mythology and folktales in what promises to be the first of the Zachary Ying books. The amusing chapter titles were a clever device, which made me want to read on and find out more.
I enjoyed the exploration of modern day Chinese politics with all its trials and tribulations and was fascinated by the amazing diversity of the Chinese people. I also felt Zack’s apprehension about other people’s attitudes to his cultural background was realistically portrayed. This was evident in the fact his mum didn’t teach him Mandarin, as she didn’t want him to have an accent at school, and in the way he furtively tries to compost his freshly cooked Asian packed lunch as he does not want the other children to tease him about not eating ‘American’ food. However, because he never embraces his Chinese heritage he is utterly unprepared for the ensuing quest. He is told more than once he worries too much about what people think of him.
Zack is a great character with a unique voice who captures the reader from the start. He plays as a team with his so-called ‘friends’, in his favourite online augmented reality game, Mythrealm, which is played through a clear AR headset, styled like a hero’s mask from DC or Marvel, as can be seen on the beautiful front cover. The game is a Pokémon-style game where players wander the streets to find unique characters. Xiran Jay Zhao cleverly combines this AR gaming with Chinese myths and history to create an exciting action-packed adventure that will have readers hooked.
Simon Li, who channels the Emperor Taizong of Tang, arrives at his school and explains to Zack he is a descendant of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and was born to host this Dragon Emperor’s spirit. But Qin Shi Huang fails to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead. The Dragon Emperor presents Zack with gaming tags through the headset, which provides often hilarious key facts about each new character, explaining their role in history and effectively move the story forward.
When Zack’s mum’s soul is abducted and she consequently falls into a coma, Zack is told he must travel with the spirit-possessed headset to China to help shut the portal to the China’s underworld to save her. They have until the deadline of the seventh lunar month (known as Ghost Month) which is in only fourteen days. He believes if they fail he could lose his mum forever.
In China, Zack and Simon meet up with Melissa Wu, who channels the only female emperor in China’s history, Wu Zetian. Zack must learn how to use the emperor’s water dragon powers so together with his new ‘friends’ they can find the magical Chinese artefacts to defeat a host of historical and fictional figures.
Xiran Jay Zhao’s world building is excellent. I liked the way the magic became more powerful through the stories being kept alive in people’s minds, despite whether they are fact or fiction, and how this linked to the stories portrayed in computerised games and movies, as well as in the myths and legends.
Through his journey Zack learns about his ancestry and discovers Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a tyrant who lies, cheats and killed many people to get what he wanted. Zack struggles with whether he should be helping him or not. As the story progresses, he finds it more and more difficult to determine right from wrong. He ultimately discovers what it means to be truly strong.
I would recommend this book to all middle-grade readers who love fast-paced fantasy adventures. I am looking forward to the second book in the series.
To follow the rest of the blog tour please take a look at the schedule below:
I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. I would also like to thank Rock the Boat publishers for sending me a review copy. Thank you.
You can find Xiran Jay Zhao on Twitter @XiranJayZhao for memes, Instagram @xiranjayzhao for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok @xiranjayzhao for fun short videos, and YouTube @xiranjayzhao for long videos about Chinese history and culture.
You can buy copies of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.