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Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor (Zachary Ying, #1)

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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 unpre 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.


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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 unpre 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.

30 review for Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor (Zachary Ying, #1)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Xiran Jay Zhao

    This is a book I didn’t think I’d have the strength to write. The concept is very wacky and self-indulgent, yes—Chinese Percy Jackson meets YUGIOH!!!—but writing the story required me to dig deep into my complicated relationship with my heritage. When I immigrated to Canada in 6th grade, I spent a year as the only Asian kid in the school of a small town. In that one year, I became self-conscious of all sorts of things that didn’t seem to matter before: the way I looked, the way I spoke, the cloth This is a book I didn’t think I’d have the strength to write. The concept is very wacky and self-indulgent, yes—Chinese Percy Jackson meets YUGIOH!!!—but writing the story required me to dig deep into my complicated relationship with my heritage. When I immigrated to Canada in 6th grade, I spent a year as the only Asian kid in the school of a small town. In that one year, I became self-conscious of all sorts of things that didn’t seem to matter before: the way I looked, the way I spoke, the clothes I wore, the media I liked. The white kids wouldn’t insult me outright, but they’d ask me questions that made me embarrassed of my differences from them. I felt backward, alien (hello, colonial generational trauma). The feelings of isolation and rejection I experienced took me many, many years to unpack. It’s been a long journey, learning to love myself again, and I drew much strength from stories in Chinese history to do so. However, as the years passed, I’ve also watched in horror as the government of China became increasingly authoritarian, cracking down on dissent and committing genocidal atrocities against minority ethnic groups, of which I belong to one myself. Even between the time I sold this book to now, overnight crackdowns have happened that render certain parts of the story unrealistic, so I have to emphasize that this book takes place in a fictional near future and is not meant to be an accurate representation of modern China. Being Chinese has become so painfully political. Pride in Chinese culture is no longer as simple as that, but could accidentally play into the Chinese government’s use of traditional culture as propaganda. Yet on another hand, there’s the necessity of demystifying and defending Chinese culture to combat anti-Chinese racism. Many diaspora like myself are caught in the crosshairs, struggling to find the balance. But what I firmly believe is that traditional Chinese culture and history don't belong to the Chinese government. It belongs to the Chinese people, both native and diaspora. If we distance ourselves from our heritage specifically because of the Chinese government, that’s letting them win, validating their claim to be the one true representative of Chinese culture when that is absolutely not the case. Through Zack’s journey in this book, I wanted to engage with the complexities of Chinese identity, especially as a minority and diaspora, but I also want to have fun. 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. You’ll find appearances by real figures from said history and myths, wielding magic inspired by their legends, along with many famous Chinese artifacts (because of course I'm an archeology nerd too). I hope you enjoy it. (Art is by @RacheleRaka!)

  2. 5 out of 5

    luce ❀ wishfully reading ❀

    ❀ blog ❀ thestorygraph ❀ letterboxd ❀ tumblr ❀ ko-fi ❀ 3 ½ (rounded up as i am not really part of this book's intended audience) Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is an engaging start to an action-driven fantasy series that is written in a winsome prose that is guaranteed to appeal to fans of Rick Riordan. Like Riordan’s books, Zhao combines an action-driven quest with a coming of age tale exploring the highs and lows of being a 12yr boy. I loved the way the author managed to incorporate—with ❀ blog ❀ thestorygraph ❀ letterboxd ❀ tumblr ❀ ko-fi ❀ 3 ½ (rounded up as i am not really part of this book's intended audience) Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is an engaging start to an action-driven fantasy series that is written in a winsome prose that is guaranteed to appeal to fans of Rick Riordan. Like Riordan’s books, Zhao combines an action-driven quest with a coming of age tale exploring the highs and lows of being a 12yr boy. I loved the way the author managed to incorporate—with varying degrees of self-awareness—existing tropes of the 'chosen one/kids with powers' genre whilst adding new dimensions and elements to their story. Additionally, unlike a lot of MG books, Zhao addresses serious and topical issues/realities in a very clear-eyed and straightforward manner. Zachary Ying, our main character, has tried to distance himself from Chinese culture in order to fit in his white majority school. His mom, who is his sole carer, works long hours, so Zack spends a lot of his time playing Mythrealm. One day at school he comes across Simon who seems eager to get to know Zack. Turns out that Zack, the host of the spirit of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who, alongside Simon, host to Tang Taizong, and later on Melissa, host to Wu Zetian, are tasked with a crucial mission: they have to seal the portal to the Chinese underworld before the Ghost Month. Zack doesn’t really want to be part of all of this but with his mom’s life in jeopardy, he has little choice in the matter. Unlike Simon and Melissa, however, Zack’s emperor was not fully able to possess him and was forced to tie himself to Zack’s AR gaming headset (which lends many of the action sequences a gameplay quality). To rectify this Zack flies to China to strengthen his bond with his Chinese heritage, all the while being chased by baddies…but as their mission unfolds and Zack learns more about the emperors’ reigns, he begins to worry that he is not working for the good guys either. Throughout the course of the narrative, the author references superhero comics, games, anime (i mean, code geass gets a mention which will always be a win in my books), as well as, you guessed it, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The narrative is quite self-aware in that these references often come at an apt moment, and usually poke fun at the existence/perseverance of said trope/storyline (for example with the 'fridging' of zack's mom). I liked this meta aspect of the narrative as it gives the storytelling a playful edge that serves to counterbalance the more serious themes/scenes. Through Zack’s storyline, the author is able to explore the everyday realities of being a Chinese-American kid who feels pressured by his white peers to distance himself from his own Chinese heritage. Additionally, Zack is Hui, an ethnoreligious minority group with Islamic heritage and/or adhere to Islam. Like other minority groups in China, the Hui can be and are discriminated against by the current Chinese government. Zack’s father was executed after protesting the government's treatment of Uighur Muslims, and this makes his journey to China all the more fraught. While the author criticizes the current Chinese government, through Zack’s quest they are also able to showcase their love for Chinese culture and history, presenting us with a complex image of this country, its past and present. The author's depiction of and discussions around China oppose the kind of monolithic and homogenous image of this country that sadly seems to prevail in a lot of western media and public discourses. The China that emerges from these pages is enriched by its expansive history and many idiosyncrasies (other MG authors, please take notes!). I loved the way they incorporate historical facts in the action sequences, so when we are introduced to a new historical figure we get a punchy introduction giving us an overview of their life. There were instances where I wish the author had not added American, or otherwise western, equivalents when introducing a certain figure or when touching upon a certain historical period (we often are given enough context to understand the cultural/historical significance of said person/period). Still, I really appreciated how the author avoids the usual good/bad dichotomy that tends to be the norm in a lot of MG books. Zack repeatedly questions the past behaviours and present motivations of the emperors. The chapters all have funny titles that were very much a la Riordan. The banter between the various emperors and historical figures was very entertaining, even in those instances where it was trying a bit hard to be ‘young/relatable’. I loved the way the narrative includes and discusses historical-related things, as it very much reminded me of the author’s youtube content, which—as you may or may not know—I am besotted by. While I thought that the historical characters were equal parts interesting and amusing, the contemporary ones, except Zack, were not quite as dynamic. Simon and Melissa in particular lacked dimension and seemed the type of stock characters you find in any ‘trio’ (melissa in particular is the kind of aggravating sidekick who is meant to be a 'spunky girl' but comes across as kind of a jerk). I didn’t like them that much either, even before the latter half of the novel. Zack deserves some real/better friends. Anyway, Zack steals the show as this is ultimately his story. He goes through a lot in this book and is forced to question the kind of person he wants to be/become. He makes mistakes, and he learns from them. He knows he wants to be stronger but finds his notion of strength to be challenged more than once. I wish that the narratives had called out a bit more people like Melissa who mistake his moments of vulnerability or hesitancy as signs of weakness or a 'lack of moral fibre'. Dio mio, he's a KID, leave my boy alone. I don't know, I felt protective of Zack and because of this found myself rather peed off by anyone who tried to make him feel ashamed of being sensitive. But I digress. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable book that manages to blend together history and technology. If you a fan of heroes' quests you should definitely give this one a try. Added bonuses: hints of casual gay rep + positive Muslim rep. I for one liked it a lot more than the author's debut novel, which I sadly was unable to enjoy (i know, don't get me started if i could actively control and change my response to that book i would). I found the author’s prose to be a lot more confident in this one and their style really worked for this MG-type of storytelling. This is the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a 12yr old as I would have been able to love it, whereas now I can only just ‘like’ it. Anyway, I liked the humor and the historical facts, so this gets a thumbs up from me and I look forward to its follow-up. ps: i just remember but some of zack’s reactions to learning some of the horrific things the emperors did are gold

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carl

    I've beta'd an early version of this book and it is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. Xiran is hands down one of my favourite authors, and this book in particular is so freaking important. Not only it is an extremely fun read, but it will be such a fundamental book for so many second/third gen children who struggle with their identity. It also has so many interesting bits of Chinese history woven into the narration, without shying away from criticizing the current regime's treatment of minorities. It is such I've beta'd an early version of this book and it is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. Xiran is hands down one of my favourite authors, and this book in particular is so freaking important. Not only it is an extremely fun read, but it will be such a fundamental book for so many second/third gen children who struggle with their identity. It also has so many interesting bits of Chinese history woven into the narration, without shying away from criticizing the current regime's treatment of minorities. It is such a bold, compelling book with extremely lovable characters - The First Emperor is, hands down, my favourite character. Like, in the universe. Xiran's portrayal of him is so spot on! Both children and adults will LOVE this story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    rachel ☾

    Follows 12-year-old Chinese American boy Zack, whose AR gaming headset gets possessed by the First Emperor of China, who compels him to journey across China to heist artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth so he can seal the underworld before its spirits flood out and destroy the mortal realm. and it's "in the vein of Yu-Gi-Oh! meets Percy Jackson" !! Blog • Trigger Warning Database • Twitter • Instagram Follows 12-year-old Chinese American boy Zack, whose AR gaming headset gets possessed by the First Emperor of China, who compels him to journey across China to heist artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth so he can seal the underworld before its spirits flood out and destroy the mortal realm. and it's "in the vein of Yu-Gi-Oh! meets Percy Jackson" !! Blog • Trigger Warning Database • Twitter • Instagram

  5. 4 out of 5

    charlotte,

    haha that ending? there's a sequel right? read my review on reads rainbow Rep: Hui Chinese American Muslim gay mc, Chinese side characters (one Miao Chinese), Hui Chinese Muslim side character haha that ending? there's a sequel right? read my review on reads rainbow Rep: Hui Chinese American Muslim gay mc, Chinese side characters (one Miao Chinese), Hui Chinese Muslim side character

  6. 4 out of 5

    jenny✨

    this was marvelous. immersive, fast-paced, and wholly engrossing, zachary ying and the dragon emperor had me spellbound from the get-go; i devoured the book in one escapism-fuelled sitting. this was my first book by xiran jay zhao, and with a sample size of n = 1 (one) book they are already entering the top tier of authors i love, enjoy, and wish to support. zachary ying succeeds at something that many novels i’ve read - whether targeted toward adults or youth - attempt and don’t always achieve: i this was marvelous. immersive, fast-paced, and wholly engrossing, zachary ying and the dragon emperor had me spellbound from the get-go; i devoured the book in one escapism-fuelled sitting. this was my first book by xiran jay zhao, and with a sample size of n = 1 (one) book they are already entering the top tier of authors i love, enjoy, and wish to support. zachary ying succeeds at something that many novels i’ve read - whether targeted toward adults or youth - attempt and don’t always achieve: it interweaves macro-level, big-picture politics and social issues with the micro-level nuances and complexities of individual stories and characters. and it does all of this within a fantastical middle-grade novel featuring unique worldbuilding rooted in ancient chinese history and mythology and modern-day video-gaming and pop culture. i absolutely LOVED the representation of chinese ethnic minorities in this novel. specifically, zack is hui chinese and muslim, while melissa wu is miao. (zack is also queer - and earnest and wobbly and really a protagonist i’m endeared to and rooting for.) this book draws critical attention to the diversity of people who fall under the catch-all term "chinese", distinguishing between the han chinese (a majority cultural and ethnic group comprising over 90% of the chinese population; this is typically what folks think of when they think of "chinese") and the 55+ ethnic minority groups that also reside in china and make up the chinese diaspora, including hui and miao and uighurs. moreover, zachary ying does not condone the oppression of minorities by the chinese government, as the book underscores the emotional and physical impacts of discrimination, displacement, and violence experienced by minority individuals in china. and, at the same time, this book celebrates, uplifts, and champions the beauty and lyricism of chinese culture, history, art, mythology, and people, particularly ethnic minorities. the two are not conflated, and i appreciated the care and nuance that went into this depiction. also - i’m not a gamer myself and was totally surprised by how much i adored the way zhao interfaced video games, augmented reality, history, and fantastical worldbuilding - all of it became much more accessible and interesting as a blended collective. this eclectic mixture of subjects also showcased zhao’s pitch-perfect deadpan humour, pop culture references, and passion for and knowledge about chinese history - it is epic, to say the least. not to mention, the legend magic at the crux of the worldbuilding felt unique and progressive and utterly compelling. though some of the explanations verged toward info-dumping, this was balanced by the entertaining way in which zhao delivered the details: through witty character profiles (like pop-ups you’d see in a video game), sarcasm-infused storytelling, and rapid-fire banter. last thing i want to mention is that neo cihi, the audiobook narrator, really brought this story to bursting, vivid life! their expressive and multifaceted voice was so much fun to listen to, and i'm going to keep an eye out for more stories narrated by them in future. the only note i have is that i might’ve preferred a narrator who could pronounce the chinese words and phrases more accurately - but i understand this may’ve been a deliberate choice on the part of the author and publisher! and it ultimately didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. bottom line: this is a propulsive adventure steeped in ancient chinese history and mythology that will keep pages flipping as you journey along with zack and his friends. i seriously can’t wait for the next installment!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

    I loved Iron Widow and was pretty excited for this one. It definitely gives Percy Jackson vibes and I thought it was a standalone but based off the ending - it isn’t. I kind of wish it was a standalone because I’m getting over series but that’s my own problem. The book itself is a lot of fun and Zachary is a sweet character who I constantly wanted to give a hug through the pages. There’s a lot of action as well as getting to hear Zach’s struggle as the only Chinese kid in school. There’s also a I loved Iron Widow and was pretty excited for this one. It definitely gives Percy Jackson vibes and I thought it was a standalone but based off the ending - it isn’t. I kind of wish it was a standalone because I’m getting over series but that’s my own problem. The book itself is a lot of fun and Zachary is a sweet character who I constantly wanted to give a hug through the pages. There’s a lot of action as well as getting to hear Zach’s struggle as the only Chinese kid in school. There’s also a lot of mythology and history throughout the book that was just kind of dropped. I feel like some of it would be hard for a middle grade kid to follow. 3.5, decided to round up to 4 because I think I just wasn’t in the mood for a middle grade when I was reading it and that’s more on me rather than the book plus I will continue the series! Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy of the book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maisha Farzana (on hiatus)

    I don't read middle grade books. But I will definitely read this one. Because it's from Miss Zhao. I'm excitedly, anxiously waiting for Iron Widow's sequel to come out. Meanwhile I am going read each & everything Xiran Jay Zhao is coming out with.... And Look At The Cover. 😍😍😍 I don't read middle grade books. But I will definitely read this one. Because it's from Miss Zhao. I'm excitedly, anxiously waiting for Iron Widow's sequel to come out. Meanwhile I am going read each & everything Xiran Jay Zhao is coming out with.... And Look At The Cover. 😍😍😍

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marta Nunes

    2022 can't come fast enough. Casually learning about Chinese history through the eyes of a pre-teen playing some video games? Fighting epic battles and finding ancient artifacts? Sounds amazing! Also, I see that LGBT tag and I now I'm even more curious... 2022 can't come fast enough. Casually learning about Chinese history through the eyes of a pre-teen playing some video games? Fighting epic battles and finding ancient artifacts? Sounds amazing! Also, I see that LGBT tag and I now I'm even more curious...

  10. 4 out of 5

    hiba

    zachary ying is such a wildly exciting, fast-paced, magical adventure - i'm not really a middle grade reader but this gave exactly what it was supposed to give. - crash course on chinese history and mythology in a fun, immersive way that integrates with the plot. - likable, sympathetic protagonist. - love how the magical powers come from invoking chinese historical legends and myths. - really appreciate the casual gay muslim rep - we desperately need more of this in fantasy books. it was also goo zachary ying is such a wildly exciting, fast-paced, magical adventure - i'm not really a middle grade reader but this gave exactly what it was supposed to give. - crash course on chinese history and mythology in a fun, immersive way that integrates with the plot. - likable, sympathetic protagonist. - love how the magical powers come from invoking chinese historical legends and myths. - really appreciate the casual gay muslim rep - we desperately need more of this in fantasy books. it was also good to see rep for chinese ethnic minorities. the only caveat i have is that all the rapid historical explanations might get a bit confusing for the book's intended audience although i do think they're worded in a simple, digestible way. besides that, i'm excited for the sequel and i hope it develops the friendships between the main three more. rep: hui chinese-american gay muslim mc, miao chinese sc, all-chinese cast

  11. 4 out of 5

    Basma

    Actual rating: 4.5 Hello, I was NOT aware the main character was Muslim! What a wonderful surprise! This wasn't super heavy on Muslim rep or anything but it was nice to see it included! I loved Xiran's writing in Iron Widow and so I was very excited to read their middle grade! In true Xiran fashion, this was hilarious and a page turner. As someone with no prior knowledge of Chinese history, I was able to keep up easily. The characters are fun and unique and I loved them all! I'm definitely curious Actual rating: 4.5 Hello, I was NOT aware the main character was Muslim! What a wonderful surprise! This wasn't super heavy on Muslim rep or anything but it was nice to see it included! I loved Xiran's writing in Iron Widow and so I was very excited to read their middle grade! In true Xiran fashion, this was hilarious and a page turner. As someone with no prior knowledge of Chinese history, I was able to keep up easily. The characters are fun and unique and I loved them all! I'm definitely curious to see where the story goes from here. If you love Percy Jackson style books, this is definitely the one for you! I received an e-arc of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sahitya

    CW: racism, mentions of Chinese govt’s brutal oppression of ethnic minorities Definitely a 4.5 and I’m rounding up. Would I have read this middle grade action adventure novel if not for the author being Xiran?? Probably not. I only finished the Aru Shah series because it’s inspired from my favorite childhood stories and I truly didn’t have interest in checking out more middle grade novels. But I fell in love with Iron Widow and then Xiran’s fantastic YouTube channel, so I was ofcourse gonna read CW: racism, mentions of Chinese govt’s brutal oppression of ethnic minorities Definitely a 4.5 and I’m rounding up. Would I have read this middle grade action adventure novel if not for the author being Xiran?? Probably not. I only finished the Aru Shah series because it’s inspired from my favorite childhood stories and I truly didn’t have interest in checking out more middle grade novels. But I fell in love with Iron Widow and then Xiran’s fantastic YouTube channel, so I was ofcourse gonna read whatever they write next, even if it turned out to be MG. And this was a total riot. To be honest, I’m just glad I’ve watched some cdramas, brushed up on a bit of Chinese history and watched all of Xiran’s videos diligently in the past year or so, because otherwise the experience of reading this book wouldn’t be the same. I’m not saying that you won’t enjoy the book if you don’t know the history - you still will because the story is written in such a way that everything that needs to be learnt is told in an organic way and you learn it along with the main character. But if you do know some little history and pop culture tidbits, it just makes you feel more excited and in the know. The magic system is also very interesting because it’s based on myths and legends and how much people believe in them. The writing is fun and quirky and full of banter, and the action starts right from chapter one, so there’s not much here to get bored. We are always on the move with the characters, going on heists and summoning legendary historical or mythical figures and just overall having fun all throughout. While all the fun parts should be great for the age group of readers for whom this book is written for, I think what I loved was how many themes the author tackled while never letting it get too heavy and in the way of the fun. The one thing this book definitely is is a story of being part of a diaspora, unable to feel like you belong anywhere, not knowing much about the place where your family comes from but also being othered in the place you live. Our main character’s struggles are also amplified because he is from an ethnic minority in China and Muslim who are being oppressed in the mainland, but for the Americans around him, he is just another outsider Chinese boy. But while he goes on his journey to save China, he not only gets to know more about his culture and heritage, he is also able to confront the reality of wanting to be proud of his culture but also understanding the brutality of the government against his people. But this story is not just about him finding his own way through his heritage. This is also about the perils of power and authority, how power can corrupt anyone, and how the myths and legends we get to know might not always have a basis in truth. We can never be sure about the truth behind who is hailed and who is vilified in our historical texts because it all depends on who’s writing the stories. And finally, there’s quite a bit of contemplation here about what makes a good leader and how the ones we think we know the truth about can contain multitudes. Zachary Ying or Zack is a twelve year old who just wishes that he could have friends with whom he can be himself and not trash his mother’s lunches because his friends think he smells. He is struggling for belonging but he finds all the love he needs from his mom, who had to escape from oppression but works hard to ensure her son leads a better and safe life. He is overwhelmed with his sudden circumstances but he is also ready to do anything to save his mom. While he slowly gains power and gets to understand what powerful means, he also experiences betrayals and untruths and has to decide for himself what he wants to believe in and how he wants to save China. He is very easy to empathize with and I loved following along his journey, seeing him grow and understand his priorities. He is supported in his adventures mainly by the spirit of the first emperor of China, Qin ShiHuang, who has possessed his gaming lenses. Famously known as a tyrant, there are many legends associated with him and Zack gets to know his and his history slowly. It was actually quite fun to understand the stories about the historical figure and reconciling that with his spirit which has had thousands more years of evolution and might not be so tyrannical anymore. But he can be pompous and full of himself, so it was interesting to get to see all sides of him and how he reacts to the various good and bad legends that have formed around him. Zack is also supported in his mission to save China by two mainlander kids of his age, Simon and Melissa but I don’t wanna give away which emperors they are being possessed by because that was a lovely surprise. I just wanna say that I loved their budding friendship, especially Zack and Simon because Simon is the history nerd who takes it upon himself to educate Zack. And it was also nice to see Zack be freer among people of his own age. Ofcourse, we also get to meet many other historical figures, especially the comrades and enemies of these emperors as well as some other mythical and legendary figures, and I was especially excited whenever someone showed up whose story I already knew a bit. To conclude, what more can I say. If you’ve enjoyed reading Percy Jackson, Aru Shah or other middle grade adventure stories featuring mythological figures, then this is a perfect book for you. It’s fast paced, action packed, full of history and pop culture info without ever feeling too overwhelming, and characters who are very entertaining to engage with. If you have any interest in Chinese dynastic history, you really will find this a lot of fun. And if you’ve read Iron Widow, then be prepared for some delightful surprises.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rameela (Star)

    Initial Thoughts: it ended like THAT?! Loved the Muslim rep! I was so surprised since it's not highlighted at all in the synopsis or anything! Gotta be honest I didn't fully understand all the history and stuff but that's on me because I was reading with my brain mostly off but it was really fun! Initial Thoughts: it ended like THAT?! Loved the Muslim rep! I was so surprised since it's not highlighted at all in the synopsis or anything! Gotta be honest I didn't fully understand all the history and stuff but that's on me because I was reading with my brain mostly off but it was really fun!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Corinne Morier

    YUGIOH BUT CHINA I HAVE A MIGHTY NEED FOR THIS BOOK

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ness

    Cannot stress how excited I was that my store got an arc for this one. This review has no story spoilers. When I finished Xiran Jay Zhao's debut novel, Iron Widow, I took to the internet to find out when their next book was coming out. After about a half-second of disappointment upon seeing it wasn't a sequel, I read the synopsis for Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, and I had the exact same feeling about the book that I'd had about Iron Widow: I'd never read anything like that before. Zhao h Cannot stress how excited I was that my store got an arc for this one. This review has no story spoilers. When I finished Xiran Jay Zhao's debut novel, Iron Widow, I took to the internet to find out when their next book was coming out. After about a half-second of disappointment upon seeing it wasn't a sequel, I read the synopsis for Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, and I had the exact same feeling about the book that I'd had about Iron Widow: I'd never read anything like that before. Zhao has an incredible knack for surprising fiction, but a unique premise isn't enough – an author needs to back it up with substance and quality. Zhao has now managed this balancing act twice, with two incredible novels that really have it all. If Iron Widow is Pacific Rim meets Handmaid's Tale, then Zachary Ying might be Gaiman's American Gods meets Yu-gi-Oh, all through the lens of Chinese history and mythology. Here's where I'll stop comparing Zhao's two novels, because they really are two very different books. Like American Gods, Zachary Ying doesn't shy away from the complicated nature of a cultural identity, but Zhao's book never manages to lose a sense of optimism and pride. There's so much to say about Zachary's journey, which is thrilling enough to engage young and reluctant readers (cool superpowers, cool monsters, actually fun facts about sometimes very strange historical moments), but complex and intimate enough for advanced readers or adults who like weird fiction. I'll just wrap it up with this: It's real, real good. I was so excited for Zhao's next book, and it did not disappoint.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hilly ♡

    Zack’s AR gaming headset gets possessed by the First Emperor of China, who compels him to journey across China to heist artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth so he can seal the underworld.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hsinju Chen

    4.5 stars rounded up. If you love history, mythology, and chaos, this book is for you. Zachary “Zack” Ziyang Ying (12, gay) loves the video game Mythrealm, and it helps him make “friends.” When a Chinese boy, Simon Li, shows up at his school, Zack finds his life turning upside down as the spirit of Qin Shi Huang tries to possess him when he stands up for Simon to his “friends.” It doesn’t help that his mother’s spirit gets abducted by bad ghosts. To save his mother from disappearing forever and Ch 4.5 stars rounded up. If you love history, mythology, and chaos, this book is for you. Zachary “Zack” Ziyang Ying (12, gay) loves the video game Mythrealm, and it helps him make “friends.” When a Chinese boy, Simon Li, shows up at his school, Zack finds his life turning upside down as the spirit of Qin Shi Huang tries to possess him when he stands up for Simon to his “friends.” It doesn’t help that his mother’s spirit gets abducted by bad ghosts. To save his mother from disappearing forever and China from being overrun with malevolent underworld creatures, Zack has to travel to China, the country that had killed his father for speaking out, with Qin Shi Huang attached to his AR headset. I didn’t make the connection of “Ying” and Qin Shi Huang’s (Dragon Emperor) family name “嬴” until I stared at the gorgeous book cover for one long minute before starting the book. It was one of his family names (mentioned in the story), and I adore all the little details like this sprinkled throughout the story. Because we have a clueless protagonist, the Chinese Hui–American who knew very little about Chinese history and mythology, we as readers get to learn everything as Zack did. As someone who knew who all these historic icons are, I can’t say how much sense it would make for those who are not familiar with them. For me, all the little bios Qin Shi Huang provided Zack with through his AR lenses were nice refreshers. I do think it is helpful and fun for learning a bit of history, too. Want to see the poet Li Bai as a drunk ghost? Read this book. Most of the time, I dislike chapter titles. I know, I know. When chapter titles are done badly, they reveal too much of or add nothing to the story. But Zhao nailed all the chapter titles! They are all so incredibly funny, accurate, and not too spoilery either. Some examples of this would be “How to Get Rich and Famous by Renting Your Body to a Dead Emperor” and “How to Scam the Ancient Chinese Justice League.” There is a lot of chaos in this book, and I am so here for it. Most of them are emperor drama. It is a special brand of fun when thousand-year-old emperor ghosts bicker like teenagers. Enjoy books with chaotic and disaster gays? Try chaotic and disaster emperors with a confused gay boy. I think Zhao is so big-brained for writing this series. I also need to mention that I appreciate the mention of the genocide of minority people the Chinese government is carrying out. This includes, but is not limited to, Hui and Uighur Muslims. For those who don’t like cliffhangers, please note that Zachary Ying ends with one. I personally don’t think it’s so big that I feel it claw at me, but I do think about it once in a while since I finished the book about ten days ago. Maybe I’m one of the few people left who has not yet read Zhao’s Iron Widow. After reading Zachary Ying, I am extra excited to read everything Zhao has to offer. content warnings: possessing, manipulation (including blackmailing), bullying, racism, genocide, death, murder, forced captivity Buddy read with Gabriella! I received an advanced digital copy from Margaret K. McElderry Books via NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving a review. INITIAL THOUGHTS: omfggggg xiran’s brain!!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    queenie

    “No. He was not Qin Shi Huang. And neither was he Jason Xuan, nor was he Shuda Li. Zack had spent so much of his life looking up to idols, trying to become someone different from himself, but they had all turned out to be shams with much bigger messes going on in the background than their glorious images suggested. He was done following others. He was Ying Ziyang, Zachary Ying, and from now on, he would find his own way.” Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆ Thank you NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for p “No. He was not Qin Shi Huang. And neither was he Jason Xuan, nor was he Shuda Li. Zack had spent so much of his life looking up to idols, trying to become someone different from himself, but they had all turned out to be shams with much bigger messes going on in the background than their glorious images suggested. He was done following others. He was Ying Ziyang, Zachary Ying, and from now on, he would find his own way.” Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆ Thank you NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for presenting me with an ARC of this book in exchange of a honest review. A breathtaking middle grade debut, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is a gripping tale that heavily focuses on identity and finding your true self. I loved everything about this book except the action scenes, which were honestly a pain to get through. Not that the writing was bad or anything, it was just super slow to me. After a seeming accident, the First Emperor of China—Qin Shi Hang—tries to possess him, and fails. Soon after, his life turns upside down after a spirit tries to capture his mom’s soul and now Zack is on an adventure with two other teens; Simon Li who hosts the soul of Tang Taizong and Melissa Wu, hosting Wu Zetian. Zack is a Muslim Chinese American, whose identity is deeply explored in the book. I really loved the way the author explains the myths, Zack’s inner monologue of whether he could ever be enough for the world. The morality of the characters was also really well done and that actually shone through the pages. The Emperors’ cruelty and their reasonings behind their actions, Zack and his friends’ actions in the book, they all contributed greatly and it was really spectacular. The only thing that I didn’t like about this book was the action sequences that read very slow and bland to me. If the writing of those particular scenes were improved, I’d definitely have loved this book more. At first, I thought it was the problem with the writing in general, but the other parts had me turning the pages, while the fights just couldn’t, no matter how hard they tried. Finally, I loved the end and how neatly it wrapped up the novel (Well, not literally because there definitely is room for a sequel after that cliffhanger). Zack figuring out himself was much more stronger and wholesome than I ever expected it to be. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for any news about the sequel and hope it’s so much better than the former. Check out the full review along with Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom on my blog! (read here)

  19. 4 out of 5

    lapetitepritt

    im gonna make this book my whole personality now

  20. 5 out of 5

    Raven

    Really good! Reminds me a lot of The Kane Chronicles actually, which is maybe a deep cut but they have similar vibes. A lot of the mythology stuff felt forced into the story- not that it was bad, just more telling than showing. I loved the very murky and complex not-good heroes and not-bad villains, it made the story fun to read for any age. Have to admit the yugioh references would go over my head so I don't know how well that was incorporated. Really good! Reminds me a lot of The Kane Chronicles actually, which is maybe a deep cut but they have similar vibes. A lot of the mythology stuff felt forced into the story- not that it was bad, just more telling than showing. I loved the very murky and complex not-good heroes and not-bad villains, it made the story fun to read for any age. Have to admit the yugioh references would go over my head so I don't know how well that was incorporated.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Zhao returns with another break-neck Chinese history-inspired sci-fi novel and it’s an absolute delight. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is marketed as Percy Jackson meets Yu Gi Oh and for once the comps are exactly what this book offers. Zachary, you average middle school boy, suddenly learns that the VR video game he plays isn’t just fiction and is thrust into a world of bickering historical and mythological Chinese figures, all while trying to save his mother’s soul. Qin Shi Huang, the fi Zhao returns with another break-neck Chinese history-inspired sci-fi novel and it’s an absolute delight. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is marketed as Percy Jackson meets Yu Gi Oh and for once the comps are exactly what this book offers. Zachary, you average middle school boy, suddenly learns that the VR video game he plays isn’t just fiction and is thrust into a world of bickering historical and mythological Chinese figures, all while trying to save his mother’s soul. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, plays a weirdly prominent role with bizarre personalities in online media, from the Qin Huangdi RP twitter account to FateGO’s mothman and Zhao is here to add yet another delightful addition to that canon. Easily my favorite part of this book was the bickering between Qin and the various other figures Zach meets through his journey, each petty argument laced with historical references and stories that a younger me would have just loved. As usual, Zhao is unapologetic in calling out racism, both the racism Zach faces in the US for being Chinese, and the racism he faces when he travels to China, for not being the right kind of Chinese. At the same time, they deftly interrogate Zach’s Muslim identity and how a Western perception of China is often skewed. Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. ___ LOVE the bickering between the various emperors and spirits. Local confused banana utterly wrecks the Chinese mythological pantheon, accidentally saves the world

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dani

    This is one of those "I wish this existed when I was a kid" books. Xiran Jay Zhao always blows me away with their ability to incorporate underrepresented identities, histories, cultures, and mythologies in their books while also making it compelling, completely one-of-a-kind, and a COOL AF plot!! Zachary Ying, oh my goodness, I just want to hug him and talk to him about all the internalized shame and struggle of being a first generation Asian kid trying to fit in and understand how to navigate i This is one of those "I wish this existed when I was a kid" books. Xiran Jay Zhao always blows me away with their ability to incorporate underrepresented identities, histories, cultures, and mythologies in their books while also making it compelling, completely one-of-a-kind, and a COOL AF plot!! Zachary Ying, oh my goodness, I just want to hug him and talk to him about all the internalized shame and struggle of being a first generation Asian kid trying to fit in and understand how to navigate in-between identities 🥺 The scene of him hiding the food his mom cooked for him and trying to throw it away broke me man ugh.. But AHHHHH, this really did feel like Chinese history Yu-Gi-Oh with elements of Pokemon Go and Avatar, The Last Airbender too. The little anime-obsessed kid in me was LIVING for the powerful ancient emperors fighting with/against spirits, immortals, and demons. I love, love, love the way Chinese historical and legendary figures interact, and how they're described to Zach in such fresh and hilarious ways. This book MAKES HISTORY FUN for kids, and also for adults!! Xiran Jay Zhao has such STYLE in the books they write and it just radiates through every sentence. They are not afraid to boldly criticize injustice, to demand MORE for their characters, and to loudly proclaim that who you are is always something to feel safe with and proud of. I'm so impressed by everything Zhao writes and grateful that books like this exist for kids in 2022.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mai

    *3.555555* I was really excited for this book and the first 25% were totally fun. but due to real life I couldn't enjoy the middle section like I wanted to. however, the ending portion kinda saved it. I'm excited for the next part:) ----- love the cover!🤩 can't wait for this book *3.555555* I was really excited for this book and the first 25% were totally fun. but due to real life I couldn't enjoy the middle section like I wanted to. however, the ending portion kinda saved it. I'm excited for the next part:) ----- love the cover!🤩 can't wait for this book

  24. 4 out of 5

    kio

    just received an ARC of this, i can't wait to get to it! just received an ARC of this, i can't wait to get to it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    belle ☆ミ (thisbellereadstoo)

    rtc i need news for book two.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maddie (Inking & Thinking)

    3.5 Stars Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is about Zachary Ying who discovers he was born to host the spirit of the first emperor of China to accomplish the mission of sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming ghost month blows it wide open. When I saw that Xiran Jay Zhao was releasing their Middle-Grade debut, I just knew I had to pick it up after thoroughly enjoying their debut, Iron Widow. As you all know, I don’t typically read Middle Grade books but once I 3.5 Stars Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is about Zachary Ying who discovers he was born to host the spirit of the first emperor of China to accomplish the mission of sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming ghost month blows it wide open. When I saw that Xiran Jay Zhao was releasing their Middle-Grade debut, I just knew I had to pick it up after thoroughly enjoying their debut, Iron Widow. As you all know, I don’t typically read Middle Grade books but once I heard the premise behind Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, I knew I just had to pick it up. Let me say that this story was an absolute joy to read and I can’t recommend it enough! If you don’t typically read Middle Grade, I would totally recommend you pick it up! Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is the kind of book I wish I had when I was younger. This middle-grade debut from Xiran Jay Zhao is a thrilling action-packed adventure that explores finding your identity and will capture your attention from page one. “You have your own background, own heritage, own story. You cannot earn true respect by pretending to be someone else.” Our story follows Zach, a twelve-year-old boy who is the only Chinese student at his school and struggles to make friends who appreciate him. Unlike in Iron Widow, Zach is not comfortable in his own skin and often is very self conscious of how people view him. This was a great choice on Xiran’s part because his character comes off as very relatable as middle school is a time where people are finding themselves while tackling the new challenges middle school brings to the table. Xiran creates a world unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The combination of gaming, a heist for magical artifacts, the history of China, and its historical figures is brilliant and something unexpected that readers will surely fall in love with. While I did enjoy worldbuilding, it had a similar issue that is also present in Iron Widow. Throughout the story, we get several history bits about China and its various historical figures. While I did enjoy learning about China’s history, much of what I didn’t know before, gave off major info dump vibes. This put a huge damper on the plot, slowing it down tremendously. I struggled to grasp the mechanics of the more magical elements and oftentimes was confused about what is ultimately going on. There were certain elements added that didn’t bring anything important in terms of the plot and overall story structure. I wasn’t sure what elements were fundamental and what I should be paying close attention to. There were lots of characters introduced in this story and this was a major detriment to the story because I would spend so much time remembering who they were and then they never showed up again. By focusing on a few characters, we could have dug deeper into their stories which would make it overall less confusing. “This is about your personal connection to me, not about you being Chinese enough. Which is not something that can be measured. You claim Chinese heritage. That makes you Chinese. Knowledge of me is just one small part of Chinese culture, which is vast and different across the world, wherever Chinese people are.” The utilization of humor in this story was quite well done and there were many times where I was laughing out loud. Each of the chapters has sarcastic titles foreshadowing what the chapter will bring to the story. Even though this was a minimal detail, you can tell how much time and effort Xiran put into this story so that readers will be able to enjoy it. The interaction between historical figures and new technologies creates fun scenes that are sure to make you laugh out loud. This sense of humor that Xiran brings to the table is what makes their stories so entertaining and creates a unique writing identity that you won’t find anywhere else. While this story has fun and entertaining moments, Xiran is able to intertwine heavy themes that resonate with the reader. This story does a brilliant job with criticizing the oppressive policies of China’s government and tackles the prejudices that many Chinese people face on a daily basis. This story explores the diaspora that Zach struggles with feeling disconnected from his Chinese Heritage since he grew up in the United States. This story puts on display how Zach knows much about western culture but he feels that he isn’t Chinese enough because he doesn’t know much about China’s history. This story does an absolutely stunning job of revealing to the reader that as Zach goes on this journey he is able to connect with his Chinese heritage and find his identity. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is a thrilling fast paced adventure that is filled to the brim with Chinese history and mythology that is sure to have you invested from page one! Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for this eARC!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    *3.75 This was so fun! I’ll read anything Xiran Jay Zhao writes at this point

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I almost feel the same way about this book as I do Iron Widow. Some of the things happening were difficult to picture, so it was hard to know what exactly was happening. Middlegrade is always a hit or a miss for me, so if you typically like it, then I would recommend this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    may ✨

    3/5 Read the full review on my blog! Kinda bummed that I didn't enjoy this more, there were definitely really good things about this book and I had fun, but: - way too fast-paced, it was hard to understand what was going on and to picture the scenes most of the time - so many information thrown into 350 pages, including info-dumps - i really loved that this was filled with historical facts, but it got really confusing and i would've liked it more if it had been focused on a few things and dug deeper, 3/5 Read the full review on my blog! Kinda bummed that I didn't enjoy this more, there were definitely really good things about this book and I had fun, but: - way too fast-paced, it was hard to understand what was going on and to picture the scenes most of the time - so many information thrown into 350 pages, including info-dumps - i really loved that this was filled with historical facts, but it got really confusing and i would've liked it more if it had been focused on a few things and dug deeper, instead of going in all different directions. ...But it was also funny, and unlike anything I'd read before! Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for this eARC!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Spiri Skye

    Thank you Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! I loved Iron Widow. When I saw the author was coming out with a middle grade book with that gorgeous cover, you know I requested it. I don’t read a lot of middle grade anymore, but I do think I would’ve really liked this as a kid. It has many of the same elements as Percy Jackson, twelve year old finds out about his heritage, gets a water ability, have to save mom, and learn lots of mythology. It was also on par with how funny PJO was. Howeve Thank you Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! I loved Iron Widow. When I saw the author was coming out with a middle grade book with that gorgeous cover, you know I requested it. I don’t read a lot of middle grade anymore, but I do think I would’ve really liked this as a kid. It has many of the same elements as Percy Jackson, twelve year old finds out about his heritage, gets a water ability, have to save mom, and learn lots of mythology. It was also on par with how funny PJO was. However it was really missing the connection with characters. I don’t know much about the side characters themselves. I love how much history we learn in this book, but at times I was confused. I wish there was a reference or guide in the back, would’ve been really helpful to have that to flip to when needed. The last thing that really irked me is that this ends in a cliffhanger. Although considering iron widow I shouldn’t be surprised by that. The pop culture references in this book were funny, I loved the jokes about avatar the last airbender. Would recommend if you like that or PJO.

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