For readers like myself who are intrigued by fun fantasy stories, Zachary Ying’s synopsis immediately caught my eye. Let’s take a dive into this brand-new middle-grade series from bestselling author
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.
What a fantastic start to a new thrill-seeking fantasy series by Zhao! Readers follow Zachary Ying on a grand quest through China in order to save his mom and humanity from the spiritual underworld. Throughout his quest, Zachary also goes through a deep journey of self-discovery. Learning more about his own heritage, Chinese history, and the person he wants causes him to reflect and be conflicted about everything he’s ever known. He’s always felt disconnected from who is he because of only being immersed in Western history and this journey allows him to reconnect with the other side of him. It was nice to see how he grows throughout the novel and with the friends and foes he makes along the way.
This novel was a highly immersive reading experience from beginning to end. Zhao’s great attention to detail throughout the novel throws the readers headfirst into the beautiful sights of China, the action-packed battles, and spiritual beings from great legends. While full of exciting fantasy and magical elements, I also appreciated how it also focuses on multiple aspects of history. I not only thoroughly enjoyed all of the fantasy parts but learning about history through a unique lens (literally and figuratively). I thought the concept of how video gaming and VR were used in the novel’s concepts and how readers get introduced to these historical figures and legends through Zachary’s goggles. It made the reading experience more fun and interactive!
The novel is fast-paced with quieter moments placed here and there, but it was such a page-turner. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next! I thought the character development was strong and the novel has a good blend of action and exposition. The ending gives you just a slight sneak peek of adventures to come in the next installment. I can’t wait to see where Zachary’s adventures will take him in the next novel.
Though this novel is primarily aimed at middle-grade readers it’s a great fantasy novel for its targeted audience and adults too. It’s filled with constant thrills and like the book’s blurb states, it will really attract fans of the Percy Jackson and Tristan Strong series. This first installment gets a solid 4 out of five stars for me.
*I received this book from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in exchange for a fair and honest review.