Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao
Simon and Schuster, ebook, £3.99
Reviewed by Minna Nizam
Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them) is one of this reviewer’s favorite authors to go viral in the past year for their excellent video on Disney’s Mulan 2020 and its cultural inaccuracies. Their first book, published through Penguin Teen Canada, Iron Widow, is still charting successfully as a NYT bestseller.
In their latest book, Zach, the protagonist of our story, has an AR gaming headset that gets possessed by the First Emperor of China. He is then compelled to journey across China to steal
artefacts and defeat figures from history so he can seal the underworld to rescue his mother, whose soul is trapped by demons. OH NO!
Published by Simon & Schuster, the story revolves around young Zach and his very Yugi Mottoesque adventures. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this book is the fact that Zach is a middle schooler yet, an outsider to his own Chinese heritage. He’s Muslim as well, which makes him a foreigner in Chinese circles. Zhao clearly did their research into the cultural disparities one faces in mainland China when they are Muslim. It’s a rarity but not uncommon. Zach’s backstory reflects this—his father was persecuted for advocating on behalf of the Muslim community in China.
This reviewer loves the adventurous spirit of Zachary Ying as well. It’s very much inspired by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and each chapter is action-packed plus brimming with details. Expect a lot of facts about Chinese history and mythology sprinkled in every other chapter.
The book is an excellent continuation of Zhao’s writing career and only showcases that they are here to stay as a writer. Zachary and the Dragon Emperor Ying is an A+ novel written by an amazing queer author who does a great job capturing adolescence, Chinese history, and the hero’s journey in a wonderful way.