Just over a little more than a year ago, I had the delight of reading The Dragon Warrior. I have a very fond memory of sitting in bed in my hotel room during a work trip, feeling alone and only having the company of my ARC copy of The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao. And when I read Katie’s middle-grade debut, about a young Asian girl who was The Chosen One and wielded the power of dragons and went on this incredible adventure – I didn’t feel alone anymore; I felt excited, empowered, and like I had gone on an incredible journey.
Earlier this year during Asian Heritage Month, I also had the honour and pleasure of having Katie Zhao visit the Pond. In her fantastic piece, she talks about the importance of embracing our inner dragons and reclaiming historically white spaces by telling stories about children of colour that are powerful, heroic, and legendary. You can imagine how excited I was, then, that I was selected to participate in a blog tour for the sequel of The Dragon Warrior, The Fallen Hero.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Shealea at Caffeine Blog Tours for offering me the opportunity to be part of this blog tour. I also want to thank Katie, for writing such a cool story that so many children will need and will love – myself included. Lastly, I want to thank the publishers, Bloomsbury USA Kids, for providing me with an eARC of this book for review.
Note: The blurb below contains spoilers for The Dragon Warrior.
Faryn Liu thought she was the Heaven Breaker, a warrior destined to wield the all-powerful spear Fenghuang, command dragons, and defeat demons. But a conniving goddess was manipulating her all along…and her beloved younger brother, Alex, has betrayed her and taken over as the Heaven Breaker instead. Alex never forgave the people who treated him and Faryn like outcasts, and now he wants to wipe out both the demons and most of humanity.
Determined to prevent a war and bring Alex back to her side, Faryn and her half-dragon friend Ren join the New Order, a group of warriors based out of Manhattan’s Chinatown. She learns that one weapon can stand against Fenghuang–the Ruyi Jingu Bang. Only problem? It belongs to an infamous trickster, the Monkey King.
Faryn sets off on a daring quest to convince the Monkey King to join forces with her, one that will take her to new places–including Diyu, otherwise known as the Underworld–where she’ll run into new dangers and more than one familiar face. Can she complete her mission and save the brother she loves, no matter the cost?
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour.
If you read my review of The Dragon Warrior last year, then you’ll know that I loved it for the story that felt like a love letter to diaspora and immigrant kids and its fun adventure about dragons and prophecies and being brave. I don’t take for granted that sequels are leaps of faith, for both the story and for the author, and I wanted more than anything for The Fallen Hero, the sequel to The Dragon Warrior, to land majestically. Well, good news, friends: The Fallen Hero is a sequel that absolutely lives up to the wonder and heart of its first book – and perhaps even more.
The Fallen Hero picks up where The Dragon Warrior leaves off: Faryn has found what she’s been searching for, and things are not what they seem. After six months of training, Faryn and her companions – including two siblings with a mysterious past and Faryn’s part-dragon friend, Ren – go on a quest to convince a powerful being from Chinese mythology to aid them in the coming war between humans and the Jade Emperor.
True to the first book, The Fallen Hero is just as fun and exciting as The Dragon Warrior. Readers will get to journey to Huāguǒ Shān and meet a mischievous god from a beloved Chinese folktale, will journey to the depths of Diyu (and you know it’s Diyu when it’s bureucractic as hell [hah!]) where Faryn confronts her inner demons (and actual) and meet old friends, and also witness epic battles between humans and gods, friends and traitors, and even fights between family. Told with humour and heart, I had just as much fun reading The Fallen Hero, and love that Katie expands the worldbuilding to include new retellings of Asian folklore and myths.
One of my favourite things about The Dragon Warrior was that it sent a clear message that Asian kids, especially those who have felt like they never really ‘belonged’ anywhere, can be ‘The Chosen One’ and the heroes of the story too. For readers who have never seen themselves, it is stories like The Dragon Warrior that can feel so empowering and validating and it is for this reason that The Dragon Warrior will forever remain close to my heart.
With The Fallen Hero, the story subverts the trope that is set up in the first book; rather than exploring what it means to be The Chosen One, especially when you are an Asian girl and exist in a socio-cultural space where Asian girls are often barred from being the heroes, The Fallen Hero asks: what if you were The Chosen One, but you aren’t The Chosen One anymore?
Though I loved The Dragon Warrior’s message that any child, especially diaspora Asian girls, could become heroes, the message in The Fallen Hero is equally vital: that a hero is someone who does good simply because it is the right thing to do. And that message is so important – because not all of us are ‘heroes’, but we can be heroes in ways that don’t require accolades or awards or a title to validate that what we do is good; we can be heroes by doing what we can to make the world a better place, doing the right thing, and standing up for people who need your help. Ultimately, The Fallen Hero is an empowering story about how a hero isn’t a title; a hero is someone who does the right thing.
Faryn shines so brightly in this book, and I enjoyed reading how she grows across the story to become a truly strong and good person who also has moments of vulnerability too. Not only does Faryn fight demons and stands her ground against mighty gods in this book, she also grapples with some really tough stuff – feeling like she doesn’t really belong anywhere; having finally found what she was looking for, only for it to not go the way she had imagined; having to fight with her loved one, even though all she wants to do is to protect them. Faryn’s physical adventure across realms balanced perfectly with her emotional journey, which made The Fallen Hero such a satisfying read.
On a more personal level, I also feel like The Fallen Hero was an interesting parallel to the ups and downs of being a diaspora kid. To me, The Dragon Warrior was about the glory and homecoming of coming into yourself and the person you were destined to be. It was about finding out who you were, finding something that anchored you, and finding that the person you always believed you could be was real and realised. The Fallen Hero shows another side: that sometimes identity and the belonging that comes with it can be a fickle thing, that those we love are often anchors in our identity – but what do we do and who are we, if we are alone? – and that sometimes, all we can really do is be the best version of ourselves, even if it means we don’t get the validation we may crave.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
The Fallen Hero leaves on a cliffhanger – an exciting one that opens up so many questions and possibilities that I can’t wait to be answered and explored in the third book. Exciting, adventurous and with plenty of emotional depth that explores what it means to be a hero, The Fallen Hero is a satisfying sequel and a fantastic book that holds its own. If you are looking for a fun book for the younger ones, or even for yourself if you’re looking for a well-rounded good read, The Dragon Warrior and The Fallen Hero are superb choices.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A former-‘The Chosen One’ has to venture into the Chinese Underworld to recover a powerful weapon in order to recruit the help of a powerful god in the upcoming fight between gods and humans.
Perfect for: readers who loved and enjoyed The Dragon Warrior; readers who like a little bit of dry humour; readers who enjoy adventure books; readers who enjoy reading about Chinese folktales
Think twice if: you’re not a big fan of ‘young humour’ and puns; you’re not a big fan of ‘adventure’ structured stories
Genre: middle grade, fantasy, adventure
Trigger/content warning: discussions about death, feelings of abandonment, ghosts (of loved ones), fantasy violence
About the Author
Katie Zhao is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and a 2018 Masters of Accounting at the same university. She is the author of Chinese #ownvoices middle grade fantasy THE DRAGON WARRIOR (Bloomsbury Kids, October 2019 & 2020), as well as a young adult author. She is a mentor for Author Mentor Match. She is currently open to freelance editorial services for young adult and middle grade manuscripts.