The Fallen Hero by Katie Zhao
Series: The Dragon Warrior #2
Published October 13th 2020 by Bloomsbury USA Kids
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy, Chinese Mythology
Diversity: POC cast (Chinese-American), AOC (Chinese-American)
Faryn Liu thought she was the Heaven Breaker, a warrior destined to wield the all-powerful spear Fenghuang, command dragons, and defeat demons. But a conniving goddess was manipulating her all along…and her beloved younger brother, Alex, has betrayed her and taken over as the Heaven Breaker instead. Alex never forgave the people who treated him and Faryn like outcasts, and now he wants to wipe out both the demons and most of humanity.
Determined to prevent a war and bring Alex back to her side, Faryn and her half-dragon friend Ren join the New Order, a group of warriors based out of Manhattan’s Chinatown. She learns that one weapon can stand against Fenghuang–the Ruyi Jingu Bang. Only problem? It belongs to an infamous trickster, the Monkey King.
Faryn sets off on a daring quest to convince the Monkey King to join forces with her, one that will take her to new places–including Diyu, otherwise known as the Underworld–where she’ll run into new dangers and more than one familiar face. Can she complete her mission and save the brother she loves, no matter the cost?
disclaimer: this review will have mini spoilers for book one, the dragon warrior.
Looking for a book filled with adventure, Chinese mythology, witty conversations, and most importantly, references to yummy goodness (e.g., bubble tea, pocky, choco pie)? The Fallen Hero is your answer. I could personally relate to one of the characters who mused “No bubble tea. Ha. As if any soul could survive in a place like that.” I feel you, honey. As for the writing, Katie Zhao knows how to write thrilling scenes and heartwarming moments with lots of emotions and feelings from the characters. Her writing is easy to read. I love that she made an effort to change typical phrases and modify it to fit the Chinese-inspired backdrop of the story. One of them was “piece of cake” to “piece of MOON cake”.
While the first book happened around the Lunar New Year, The Fallen Hero is set during the Hungry Ghost Festival. The belief is that the dead venture from the underworld to the human realm during these 15 days. To prevent ghosts from mischief, people offer entertainment and food, and burn money and other things so that it can be received in the other realm.
In The Fallen Hero, we meet Faryn’s ancestors and become privy to her family line and their background. With family being a dominant aspect of the majority of the Chinese culture, I loved that it’s such a central element in this series. Furthermore, I enjoyed that we spent a large amount of time in Diyu (underworld) with all its grimness and scariness. Hell has been a scary place especially when I grew up hearing that Chinese Hell 18 LEVELS with mazes and chambers. Don’t worry, it’s more tame and less scary in The Fallen Hero.
Fun fact: The first time I went to Taiwan, I visited a Chinese temple and picked up a book because the cover intrigued me. Younger me didn’t bother checking out the content before I merrily brought it back home. When I actually did open it up, there were illustrations of the tortures people get in hell AND I GOT TRAUMATISED SO BADLY. Betrayed by cover love. Ugh.
Following the events of The Dragon Warrior, Faryn is carrying a great deal of guilt. With Moli dying and not knowing how Alex is doing, Faryn couldn’t help but feel responsible for many things. Also, not being the Dragon Warrior anymore is another problem Faryn is facing. However, she still kicks butts and is an extremely strong person. It’s fascinating to see how both Alex and Faryn made decisions that are the total opposite even though they had the same upbringing.
In The Fallen Hero, new characters are introduced. The Liao siblings are from the New Order. Right from the start, Ashley’s hostile and easily annoyed while Jordan’s more chill. With their parentage and background unknown, the siblings are a mystery. Their powers made them dangerous and unpredictable so they are shunned and disliked by others. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t like Ashley’s behaviour and attitude towards Faryn but there’s a legit reason behind it. Also, I need to remember that they are young teenagers so I can relate to their angst.
The Monkey King has always been a favorite character in Chinese mythology. He’s probably one of the most adapted legends in TV shows. I remember watching Journey to the West (西遊記) when I was younger. Reading about him in The Fallen Hero was a nostalgic throwback, and his personality isn’t that far from the mischievous and sly Monkey King that I knew growing up. Other than him, other demonic characters make an appearance too such as the Bull Demon King (牛魔王). Familiar characters such as Nezha (哪吒), Erlang Shen (二郎神) and Guanyin (觀音) returns in this one too.
As I’ve said before, I loved that there’s a Chinese-centric book that I could whole-heartedly feel connected to. Now that it’s turning into a series, I’m all for it. The world is expanding and new mythological characters are introduced. More obstacles are thrown Faryn’s way. Overall, a thrilling and wonderful sequel to The Dragon Warrior. Recommending this to everyone.