The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
Published October 15th 2019 by Bloomsbury USA Kids
Genre: middle grade, fantasy, mythology, #ownvoices
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?
Before I get started with the review, I want to say a huge thank you to Shealea from @shutupshealea and @CaffeineTours for choosing me to participate in this blog tour! The Dragon Warrior was one of my most anticipated books of 2019, and to be able to read it before the release date was a dream come true. Not only that, I have the chance to promote the book to other readers how much of an amazing time I had reading it.
The Dragon Warrior started off with the Lunar New Year celebrations and decorations and I was sold immediately. Diving into this familiar scene that I experience every single year made the book so close to my heart. As a consistent YA book reader, I totally forgot Faryn and the rest of the characters are young teenagers. I even found myself yelling at one of the teenagers at how childish and immature the person was being. note: I’m a 22 year old young adult screaming at a 12 year old. ha.
From the start to the end, the book is action-packed, non-stop entertainment and mythologies and pure fun. Nobody expected Faryn to be the Heaven Breaker, the wielder of FengHuang and the master of dragons. All of a sudden, the Jade Society’s name is on her shoulders and she might finally be on her way to search for her missing father. Faryn was shunned by the Jade Society from the moment her father disappeared, and was consistently bullied because of it. But she never stopped learning and practicing her fighting skills.
I really liked Faryn’s character. She’s really taking the situation into her own hands, trusting her gut and thinking ahead. She holds family close to her heart, and she’s incredibly brave and courageous. Faryn is a teenager with a mission and nothing can stop her. Although, I do wish she stops once in a while to find out what her brother is worrying about.
Alex is different from his sister. Their grandfather who trains them always remarked that Faryn’s better in combat while Alex is a scholar. He doesn’t show it much but it’s obvious that comments like that bothered him a lot. But I liked that he’s more brains. His vast knowledge of the history and mythology surrounding the gods had gotten them out of tough situations many times. The siblings are fiercely protective and loyal to each other, and their love fuels their need to find their lost father.
Every time I read about something familiar, like the CNY setting or all the yummy chinese foods, it gave me positive chills. It’s so amazing to be able to relate to my own tradition and heritage in a novel. Thank you, Katie Zhao for writing a book so close to who I am and writing the Chinese culture and myths that encapsulate this novel so beautifully and brilliantly. I’ve read many more #OwnVoices novels and Asian-centric books this year but The Dragon Warrior was the one that spoke to me the most. I perk up every time a deity I know pops up (Guanyin, Erlang Shen, Nezha) or when the characters say something in Mandarin. It’s just so much of me in a tiny book, and I loved every single moment of it. It definitely a throwback to all the Chinese mythology tv shows I watched when I was a little one.
All in all, The Dragon Warrior had all the elements I seek for in a book and more. Lush world building, heart-warming sibling dynamic, complex and fast-paced plot lines, wonderful characters and easy-to-read writing. Not only that, I loved that I’m seeing my roots and heritage so fleshed out in a book.
“A true warrior needs no special weapon, Falun. It is the warrior that makes the weapon, and not the other way around. Your strongest weapons lie here”–he pressed to my forehead–”and here.” He patted my chest, right above my heart.
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.