From the mind that brought is Iron Widow comes the next best thing in middle-grade Sci-Fi, Zachary Ying and The Dragon Emperor by Xiran Zay Zhao!
Zachary Ying follows the journey of (insert gasp) Zachary Ying, a twelve-year-old boy who happens to be the descendant of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. But that isn’t the only ancestor that matters to the story. Zachary isn’t just a minority because he’s the only Asian kid in a primarily white town in Maine; he’s also Hui Muslim. An ethnic and religious minority in mainland China and as we follow his story, we learn what brought him to America and why it’s so crucial for him to return to China.
Like many immigrant kids, Zachary grows up with a vague idea of his heritage and a complex relationship with it. But in his case, it’s made worse because his father was a political dissident who spoke out against the Chinese government and their treatment of minorities. For the most part, he tries to assimilate into whiteness with his peers, but that plan falls apart when he’s attacked by demons and hears the voice of Qin Shi Huang telling him to give up control of his body. Together Zachary and Qin Shi defeat the monsters, but that’s the least of their worries.
As we join Zachary and Qin Shi for the ride, we dive into a world of Yu-Gi-Oh-inspired augmented reality battles that have real-life stakes as they both journey from America back to mainland China to save the world from destruction hands of a tech genius. But it wouldn’t be a Xiran Jay Zhao novel if it didn’t include a deep dive into questionable morals and come with a sharp twist right at the end that leaves you shellshocked and antsy at the prospect of waiting another year for the sequel.
I give Zachary Ying and The Dragon Emperor a solid four out of five stars; if you haven’t already gotten a copy, check out Xiran’s site to order online or head down to your local independent bookstore and dive in for a wild ride! Also, check out our interview with Xiran here!