A middle grade contemporary fantasy that follows a young boy as he journeys across China to seal the underworld shut and save the mortal realm.
Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.
The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.
And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ZACHARY YING AND THE DRAGON EMPEROR Review:
This book solidified my love and adoration for Xiran Jay Zhao. I don’t know if there is a “will read anything they write including if they issue a copy of the phone book” list, but I would certainly be on it.
In the blurb, Zhao says, “This book remains a love letter to my 12-year-old self, taking inspiration from everything I love—anime, video games, sci-fi, and of course, Chinese history and myths.” and the love woven into this story shows in every, perfectly-named, chapter. The character development was superb and never weighted down the impeccably plotted storyline.
This book found a balance between pop culture, complex political and historical issues, and Zack’s search for belonging in a way that felt fresh and accessible (and wildly clever!). Perfect for fans like me who aren’t typical Middle-Grade readers who are looking for a unique voice and story to break up the sameness of certain sections of the fantasy bookshelf.
Xiran Jay Zhao’s voice, characters, and imagination are ones that I am absolutely ecstatic to be able to share with the younger readers in my life.
Thank you to NetGalley & the publisher for the digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.