The Dragon Warrior is an action packed middle grade that will make your mouth water. There are sassy characters who will charm you, vulnerable ones who will worm their way into your heart, and moments that will make you smile. It’s a story about family, forgiveness, forgiveness and believing in yourself.
As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.
Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon–and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.
With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized . . . What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Dragon Warrior is perfect for fans of Aru Shah (which is the last middle grade fantasy I read). Traditions and histories unfurl on the page in an action packed debut. While there are very real dangers – the destruction of our home and the fate of the world – it’s balanced by having to quest with our ex-best friend. Zhao maintains a wonderful balance between action, humor, and tougher topics: racism and corruption. There is also fantastic diaspora representation #ownvoices – YES!
Our main character, Faryn is multiracial and with her absent father, struggles in the Jade Society amongst constant teasing and moments of cruelty. While she excels at being a warrior, she isn’t free to pursue her interests. All while her brother feels the strain to be stronger and tougher, to emulate the male role models in the Jade Society – even though he’s a clever book worm. They become thrown into a quest to embrace Faryn’s destiny, even as Faryn feels her own doubt.
While the majority of the book deals with our challenges to embrace our powers, while battling our own self-doubt, The Dragon Warrior is also about revenge and upheaval. When everyone doubts us. The power of power when mixed with resentment and hurt. The characters were truly where The Dragon Warrior shines. Zhao brings gods and goddesses to life on the pages. And even brings in a nonbinary side character.
Ultimately, The Dragon Warrior is about the struggle to accept ourselves. When we are relegated to the outskirts, when everyone is cruel and tells us we are bad, then how do we become the person we are? Find The Dragon Warrior on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.