Zachary Ying And The Dragon Emperor
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ibsn13: 9781665900706

Xiran Jay Zhao strikes again. I was blown away by her YA novel Iron Window a few months ago so when I saw her next novel Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor on sale, I snatched it up.

Once again, Xiran has interwoven ancient Chinese history and mythology seamlessly with an anime inspired aesthetic (Yugioh in this case whereas Iron Window was very Darling in the Franxx) serving it all through a genre appropriate lens.

I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s fun, it’s cute and it subverts enough tropes to keep you guessing. I got a kick out of the main villain being a rich tech bro dickhead.

In both of her novels, Xiran portrays main characters who commit murder (and other crimes against humanity) but it’s ok because “the ends justify the means”. These characters are the heroes of the novels so we’re supposed to be rooting for them despite these murders they’ve committed for the “greater good”.

Sidenote: Technically nobody actually dies in Zachary Ying and The Dragon Emperor, a book for twelve year olds, but only technically. Our memories make us who we are, if you take away 2000 years of memories from someone, don’t ask, you’ve killed that version of them.

Xiran’s novels also make reference to other heinous crimes against humanity that aren’t justified and are portrayed as such like ancient Chinese foot binding rituals and the Chinese genocide of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

I’m curious to see how far Xiran pushes her characters in her next novels. Will her heroes eventually come to regret or feel guilty about the evil they’ve committed on their path to achieving their goals? Will someone they’ve wronged in the past punish them for their digressions? Or will her heroes never have to come to terms with their choices and the people they’ve hurt along the way continuing the cycle of violence they were subjected to instead of ending it?

Uhhhh. Obviously I don’t know but I’m excited to read whatever comes next from Xiran Jay Zhao.