A 14-year-old girl intends to become a legend of wu liu, the “beautiful and deadly art of martial skating!”
As an emissary in a goodwill exchange and the first Shinian student to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout knows the stakes are high. All she has to do is outrank all of her peers, protect her little brother, Cricket, and prove that she’s not behind the mysterious attacks on campus buildings. She should be up to the task (“I’m the smartest, most capable person I know”), but all is not quite as it seems. Lien fills this Asian-inspired fantasy world with such richly layered histories and landscapes that readers may feel lost at points; some may find themselves searching for supporting materials to contextualize the political intrigue, though they will be grateful for the academy map. The narrative’s swift pace and suspense should help keep utter confusion at bay, though, and vividly described wu liu sequences capture the exuberance and energy of the imagined sport. Although most characters, including Peasprout, evolve unevenly but predictably, reticent classmate Doi strikes out on her own, overturning several tropes. In this children’s novel where all of the characters are presumably Asian or some fantasy equivalent, relationships portrayed are both refreshing and essential.
An ambitious debut that may leave some readers scrambling to keep pace. (Fantasy. 10-14)