Book Review: “Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor” by Xiran Jay Zhao


I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor” by Xiran Jay Zhao! This is the same author who wrote “Iron Widow,” which I reviewed last year.

Here’s a quick summary so we know what it’s about:

“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.”

Worldbuilding Developement: 4 out of 5 stars

Please don’t ask me about the historical accuracy of any of the historical figures in this book. I don’t have enough knowledge on that end, so I won’t be taking this into consideration when ranking any of the super-historical elements in this book.

Putting that aside, however, this book definitely gave Percy Jackson and Yu-Gi-Oh similarities as advertised. The Mythrealm gameplay was fun to read about, as well as all the historical figures involved in this book (and there are many). I also found it helpful that there was a brief description given for all of the historical figures that did appear in this book, so the reader could understand the general gist of what was going on.

Plot Development: 4 out of 5 stars

If you’ve read any of the Percy Jackson books, this book follows similar storylines. Zachary’s mom loses her soul, and now Zack has to work with the First Emperor and work with other friends who also are partially possessed by other Chinese historical figures to save the day and seal the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld.

What I just described sounds like a simple-enough plot. But, the subplots of Zachary learning about the First Emperor’s past history and other developments that I won’t spoil make it much more complicated. Thankfully, the subplots help to add to the main plot rather than detract from it.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, and I won’t say how it ends to avoid spoilers. However, it does have me itching to learn more about what happens with Zachary and the others now – especially with their biggest threats still at lareg.

Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Though Zachary Ying takes place in a separate universe than Iron Widow, Wu Zeitan does appear in this book. She’s just as sassy and bold as characterized in Iron Widow, so this will be a fun discovery for fans of Iron Widow picking up this book. She and the other historical figures possessing the main characters were a highlight of the book. Their back-and-forth banter, calling each other out for past incidents and traits, and their developing bonds with the main trio are really fun to read.

The main trio themselves are also fun to read, though most of the development falls on Zachary (since he’s the main character). Zachary is good to relate to as a character, even if you’re not Asian and/or don’t know a lot about Chinese culture or heritage to begin with.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 out of 5 stars!

There is a lot more I hope to learn about the main story, our characters, as well as the threats they’ve faced so far (and some they have yet to meet, it seems) in the next book. I look forward to reading more!

Also: Friendly reminder that I will be posting book reviews biweekly starting in March!

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