by Mary Fan
I’m a massive fan of Mary Fan, who wrote one of my favorite YA SF books of all time, Starswept (see my review!). So when I saw the announcement for this book, I knew I just had to read it. A hero’s journey through a fantastical Qing dynasty China, where we have steampunk technology mixed with magic, a lady warrior who wields a dangerous blade… this is the exact book I needed in my life, and it was perfect in every way.
When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as a godsend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection—if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.
Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.
Anlei is one of those fierce Warioress characters who jump out of the page. A village girl, trained as an acrobat and struggling with dyslexia, trying to find her place in a village where a woman’s place is in the home. It is a vocation she respects, but knows deep down is not for her. Being able to fight for her village takes courage, but not so much courage as when asked to marry a complete stranger in order to solidify the promise of protection for her people.
Tai, a thief with many mysteries up his sleeves, is the perfect foil to her character. He always seems to have the perfect joke or quip to catch her off guard. They make a perfect fighting pair, a team built on respect and trust. I loved seeing the two of them fight together both with a sword or with their words.
And the magic, the technology – the concept itself is so cool. I love the idea of giant bronze dragons soaring through the air, ships propelled along the breeze, swords harnessing ancient magic. All this to fight an enemy straight out of a nightmare.
Once again, Mary Fan proves she is the master of twists. She manages to take a story that seems to be going one direction, then swing it around until it is going another – while making me wonder how I couldn’t have seen it before. This book constantly keeps you on your toes!
While I haven’t read many Chinese tales, I feel like Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon reads like a cross between YA fantasy and a Chinese hero’s ballad, almost poetic in a sense, a journey to save one’s people, an ode to family, culture, and tradition, in the face of massive danger. The author’s writing is somehow even more lyrical than in her Starswept books, which I assumed we musical simply from the fact they were about music – turns out Mary Fan can bring this same music to Steampunk China.
If you’re looking for a story you will never have seen anywhere else, with characters you can fall in love with while simultaneously want to fight alongside with, then you are going to love Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon.
Expected publication: June 11th, 2019 by Page Street Kids
Thank you Mary Fan for sending me a copy to review!