[Book Review] The Dragon Warrior – Katie Zhao // a love letter to Chinese culture

Let me tell you, it was absolutely NOT easy to get reading done in between the absolute hellish week I had – but it was all worth it. I won’t bore you with descriptions of how I was positively buried under wild amounts of work this week, but suffice it to say that I absolutely felt it necessary to sacrifice some things (like sleep lol) just to get some reading in. That’s how much I adored this book.

But enough about me and my woes! Let’s get on with the review!

(As always, thank you Shealea @ Shut Up, Shealea for having me on this tour, and for always boosting Asian authors!)

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Purchase Links:
Amazon
Book Depository

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Title: The Dragon Warrior

Author: Katie Zhao

Age Range: Middle Grade

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

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?

Content warnings: Violence, death, bullying

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Plot

Faryn Liu and her brother Alex are members of an ancient group of warriors called the Jade Society, but are shunned because of the dishonor of their father’s disappearance (not to mention them being multiracial and not meeting the Chinese standards of attractiveness). Their father left to look for the island of the immortals and become one of the greatest demon fighters of all time, and Faryn and Alex, believing in their father, continue to train in secret, taught by their grandfather who disapproves of what the Jade Society has become – chasers after wealth and fortune, rather than defenders of mankind against demons.

When Faryn discovers she may be the legendary Heaven Breaker, a general in the Jade Emperor’s army, she and her brother go on a quest to find the island of the immortals that their father was also looking for. Helped along the way by Moli, Faryn’s ex-best friend; and Ren, a boy with a tragic back story who can turn into a dragon, Faryn and Alex race against time and enemies both mortal and immortal to face their destiny.

This story of this quest embarked on by a twelve-year-old girl, her younger brother, and their unlikely allies truly is adventurous MG at its best. Despite the fact that I’m…let’s just say, quite a bit older than this book’s target audience, I found myself invested in what was happening and excited to see what Faryn would do next.

Another thing I adored about this book is how it was so unapologetically Chinese. It takes the readers through Chinese mythology, with tons of characters from the Chinese pantheon, and references to food, traditions, and cultural practices that would be familiar to Chinese readers. I really appreciated that, and I felt that it added depth, perspective, and something completely new and fresh to the genre.

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Writing

Katie Zhao is freaking hilarious, oh my God! Her witty turns-of-phrases in the narration and her characters’ one-liners had me snickering so much. But by no means was the writing a one-hit wonder. When it wasn’t being funny, it was being completely deep and introspective, talking about what it was like to be an Asian-American and how separate growing up away from your parents’ homeland can feel.

I also really loved the world-building in this! I loved the thought of the various Chinatowns in the world being epicenters for the gods’ magic and demonic activity, not to mention how the gods, demons, and other mythological creatures were portrayed in the 21st century. (I am so here for Guanyin using an iPhone, lol.)

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Characters

Faryn Liu is my precious child and I want to protect her and fight the demons instead. I mean, I’d probably die in five minutes, but still. She’s sassy, a good older sister, and determined to always do the right thing. Iw as completely and utterly charmed by her!

One of the things I feel Katie Zhao did really well is writing in the voice of pre-teens. There were moments when I was reading dialogue by Alex, Faryn, or Moli and found myself getting annoyed and rolling my eyes –  and then I realized it was because they sounded like actual kids. That put a hard stop to my annoyance right away, mostly because I can’t stand those reviewers who say they read YA or MG and then rate it low because the characters were acting like teenagers and pre-teens. Katie wrote in the voices of kids really well, and this tells me she truly understands her target audience.

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☕ Overall

This book, at its heart, was a love letter to Chinese culture. It was also a tribute to Chinese diaspora folks, a message filled with love and understanding about the distance they feel from their culture, combined with the distance they feel from the country they live in. It was truly, truly well done, and I highly recommend this book to Asian readers everywhere!

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Know more about the author!

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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.

Website || Goodreads || Instagram || Twitter

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All about the book tour!

This wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Shealea @ Shut Up, Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours! Her book tours are the best and are always great fun. Plus, we stan a blogger who hypes Asian authors!

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Check out the rest of the stops on this book tour here:

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And tonight, there’ll be a Twitter chat at 9PM PHT / 9AM EST. Don’t miss it!

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What did you think?

☕ Want to read The Dragon Warrior? Do you think this is something you’d wanna read?
☕  Have you pre-ordered yet?
☕  What are your favorite stories from Chinese mythology?

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5 thoughts on “[Book Review] The Dragon Warrior – Katie Zhao // a love letter to Chinese culture

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