Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Page Count: 352 (hardcover)
Will Be Published: January 11th, 2011 by Delacorte Books
Recommended for: anyone who enjoys historical fiction and a strong heroine
Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.
Daughter of Xanadu tells an enthralling story which is unique in so many ways. A lot YA historical fiction seems to be set in Victorian England or America, so it was really refreshing to read a novel set in a time and place of history I knew almost nothing about-- the Mongolian Empire in the time of Kublai Khan.
Our narrator Emmajin is a Mongol Princess, but she's no proper and pampered lady of the court-- she's determined to become the first woman soldier in the Mongol army. Emmajin is a heroine who I immediately connected with-- she's strong and clever and fierce, while still being wonderfully flawed in her unexpected shyness, and her unwilling attraction to a strange but charismatic visitor to their court, who hails from the faraway land of Venice-- Marco Polo. As the court moves to their summer home of Xanadu, Emmajin's grandfather the Khan assigns her to get to know the foreigner Marco, so that the Mongol Empire may one day soon invade his homeland of Europe as they have China and the East. I loved how Emmajin's feelings towards Marco evolve from distrust and unease to friendship and then, eventually, love. *sigh* Emmajin herself grows so much over the course of the story as she travels with the army and Marco and wins glory in a great battle, only to discover that maybe intellectual, peace-loving Marco was right-- war is not all fame and bloodlust.
Good historical fiction makes a reader feel as though they're completely immersed in the time period, and Daughter of Xanadu's pages transported me right into Old World Mongolia. Dori Jones Yang is an expert on the history and culture of Mongolia, and it definitely shows. The details of the army parades and vicious battles-- the cruelty of war is never shied away from, nor is the somewhat condescending treatment of women by the Mongols-- are beautifully intricate, while still fleeting enough to make me want more. I began reading this book with the vague expectation that the plot might resemble Disney's Mulan, but finished it a whole lot wiser about the Mongol Empire and their conquering of China. Emmajin herself is a fictionous character, but most of the other characters (Kublai Khan, and of course, Marco Polo) really existed. The story is fast-paced and addictive. I literally read the book in a few hours, and recommend this fantastically-realized tale of war, star-crossed love, and betrayal to absolutely anyone.
My Rating: 5/5
Heads-up: On January 21st, author Dori Jones Yang will be making A Myriad of Books a stop on her blog tour for Daughter of Xanadu. I'm so excited to have the opportunity to interview Dori about her novel and her travels to find the ancient city of Xanadu. She has also generously offered up a copy of Daughter of Xanadu for a giveaway.
*Thanks to Good Golly Miss Holly ARC Tours for the review copy!*