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Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.