Monday, October 7, 2019

MG Fantasy review of The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
Format:  E ARC
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Kids
Number of Pages:  288
Publishing:  October 15th,  2019
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:  
"On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the demons invaded."

Twelve-year-old Faryn Liu and her younger brother Alex were born and raised in the Jade Society, home to an elite group of demon fighters in San Francisco's Chinatown.  Ever since their father disappeared four years ago, they've been outcasts, forced into servitude to Mao, the mistress of the Jade Society warriors, while secretly being trained by their grandfather (Ye Ye).  Then one day during the Lunar New Year festival, Faryn encounters a demon as she's returning from an errand, and with the help of Erlang Shen, the God of War she is able to vanquish it.  Faryn doesn't tell anyone about her encounter and instead returns to her responsibilities preparing for the Jade Societies banquet.  

During the celebration, the Fenghuang,  a spear is brought forward and per the legend, whoever lifts it will become the Heaven Breaker or the General of the Jade Emperor's army.  Many warriors make an attempt, but none are considered worthy to wield Fenghuang.  Then, Erlang Shen interrupts the festivities when he comes bearing a proclamation on behalf of the Jade Emperor, with a quest for the new Heaven Breaker in the form of a riddle and a series of tasks that need to be accomplished.  Once the Heaven Breaker has completed their tasks, they are to come to the island of Peng Lai and present themselves to the Jade Emperor and the eight immortals.  Is this the opportunity Faryn has been looking for?  Can she complete the quest and become the Emperor's General on Peng Lai Island, and if she does will she be where her father was headed when he disappeared?

The Dragon Warrior is inspired by Chinese mythology and lore and takes the reader to the Chinatown's of San Fransisco, Phoenix, Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York.  It's a fast-paced adventure, similar to the Lightning Thief in the amount of action and mythology, and sure to be very popular with readers looking for more #ownvoices stories.  I especially enjoyed the inclusion of Chinese words and phrases and how the context made it possible to get the gist of the conversation.  I wish my review copy had the glossary for the pronunciation of certain words, I believe the added details would enrich the reader's knowledge about the culture.  Also perhaps more information on the deities mentioned in the story would be appreciated, cause I sure want to know more about the Gods and Goddesses that Faryn encountered.     

The pacing and action of the story was fantastic.  There are horse-drawn chariots that take Faryn, Alex and a host of other characters on wild rides in the sky, sword fights, demons who conjure wild tornados, mid-air rescues, trap doors and a scene that reminded me of Percy Jackson in the Lotus Casino from the Lightning Thief.  Most of all the story involved a quest to get to the Lantern Festival on Peng Lai Island and Faryn's discovery that the Emperor may have nefarious plans of his own.   Faryn is aided in her quest by the supporting characters of Moli, a friend Faryn had a falling out with, Alex, Faryn's younger brother, and Ren, a boy they meet on their travels who has pure white hair and a few mysteries of his own.   Sprinkled throughout are the advice and teachings from Faryn's grandfather and lovely descriptions of Chinese foods like steamed buns (Bao zi) and spicy noodles that had me eager for more.  

The journey also involved heart to heart moments between Moli and Faryn where they discuss what happened to tear their friendship apart, why Moli shied away from Faryn and wasn't there for her when she was being bullied, and how Faryn needed her after her father disappeared.   Zhao also explores Faryn's feelings of being seen as other within her own community, reveals that one of the characters is of mixed ancestry and whether or not family requires you be related by blood.  All while huge rifts are forming between Faryn and Alex changing their relationship.   And did I mention there are dragons and secret identities?   I highly recommend The Dragon Warrior for its wonderful blend of action, adventure, humor, interesting themes and characters, and lovely Asian mythology and culture.    


  1. I'm going to be interviewing Katie in a few weeks and am really excited to read this book. My daughter is adopted from China and this sounds like a fantastic fantasy seeped in Chinese culture and mythology. Glad you liked it so much.

    1. Have to check out your interview. I think you'll really like the story.