Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor

Zachary Ying has had a hard time fitting in ever since he and his mom moved from New York to Maine. As one of the only people of Asian descent in his community, Zack often feels singled out, and he manages an onslaught of racial stereotypes every day. His best escape is through a game called Mythrealm, which he plays through his specially-equipped portal-lens at every opportunity. But when a disembodied voice begins speaking to him and unexpected violence leads to his mother’s spirit being stolen, Zack must accompany a strange companion halfway across the world to get her back.

This first installment of the Zachary Ying series introduces readers to Chinese history and culture through the lens of action, adventure, and video games. Not only does Mythrealm closely resemble Pokémon Go in structure, but several other references to video game tropes and realities are included, as well. The narrative itself alternates between moments of intense action and moments of historical education, which serves to educate and entertain readers at the same time. As Zack himself cannot understand Chinese and is unfamiliar with many of the legends and people introduced within the novel, western readers learn about the vast Chinese backstory alongside him. Many of these introductions contain humor, and readers will better connect with these historical figures through this design.

Fans of Rick Riordan will love reading about Zachary Ying and his adventures, especially as the presentation is similar across the two storylines. While there are moments in this narrative where the cultural stereotyping Zack experiences feels repetitive and preachy, the intended message is clear: everyone has a unique story and it is never a good idea to label anyone. Zack is a character who is striving to better understand and accept himself for who he is, even as others attempt to place him in a box of their own expectations. This challenge pervades throughout the novel, and readers will be inspired to investigate their own internal struggles in light of Zack’s. Fans of ancient history, fantasy, and video game culture are sure to enjoy Zachary Ying’s story and will enthusiastically await the next installment.

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