Chinese folklore and fantasy intersect in this adventure.
Faryn and her younger brother, Alex, were lovingly raised by Ye Ye, who’s now seriously ill. Viewed as outcasts by their Jade Society community, the family lives outside of San Francisco’s Chinatown but still are dedicated to worshipping the gods and train to fight demons. During a risky trip into Chinatown to get Ye Ye’s medicine, Faryn subdues a nián monster with the help of a stranger. The stranger later appears at their society’s annual banquet, revealing himself to be Erlang Shen, the god of war. He shares the Jade Emperor’s decree that whoever can complete a quest and arrive at the banquet atop the heavenly mountain on Peng Lai Island will be deemed the Heaven Breaker, the ultimate warrior, inspiring several hopefuls to race for the title. Spurred by Erlang Shen’s hints and sudden attacks by demons, Faryn reluctantly wields Heaven Breaker’s weapon, Fenghuang, and takes off, accompanied by Alex. The two hope they can also find their missing father, lost during his quest to find Peng Lai. Attempts to call in favors earned by their father prove largely futile, however. Zhao seamlessly incorporates Chinese terms and themes into the fast-paced plot. Unfortunately, the book’s humor relies heavily on Asian stereotypes. Still, the story takes intriguing twists with its cultural background, and they keep the pages turning. Faryn and Alex are multiracial: Chinese on Ba’s side and a mix of Mediterranean heritage on their mother’s.
An ambitious debut with imperfect execution—here’s hoping the sequel is smoother. (Fantasy. 9-12)