Special thank you to Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours for organizing this blog tour and providing me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
While this review is spoiler-free for The Fallen Hero, it may contain spoilers for The Dragon Warrior.
Title: The Fallen Hero
Author: Katie Zhao
Publication Date: October 13th, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Source: Digital ARC via publisher
Age Range & Genre: middle grade, fantasy
Content warnings: mentions of death/afterlife torture
Synopsis: 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?
If I could go back in time and gift my middle school self one series, it would have to be The Dragon Warrior series by Katie Zhao. Full of wit, humor, heart, The Fallen Hero is a love letter both to the Chinese diaspora and to the young adults who needed books like these growing up (including myself).
An outcast for the majority of her life, Faryn is a compelling protagonist whose strength comes from her love of her family and her own moral compass. Because of her multiracial background, she was never quite accepted by the Jade Society, where she grew up, nor does she fit in with the New Order – and to top it all off, Faryn has been betrayed by her younger brother and is no longer the Heaven Breaker. She struggles with feelings of abandonment and fitting in, but none of that stops her from wanting to honor the memories and legacies of her family and save her brother from making a mistake he can never take back. Faryn Liu is a courageous, Pocky-loving, dutiful granddaughter, and I have no doubt that she is going to save her world.
Despite the fact that my niece is years away from reading at all, much less reading chapter books, I’ve been keeping an ongoing mental note of books I want to gift to her when she’s ready, and The Dragon Warrior series is at the top of my list. Faryn is one of the most resilient protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know, and she has something to teach everyone, no matter their age. Faryn knows that blood doesn’t always make family and will never turn her back on the one she’s chosen, especially Alex, even as he continuously chooses the path that diverges from her own. And even in the face of the deepest kind of betrayal, Faryn still musters up the strength to be compassionate about what her brother is going through and the choices he makes, becoming all the more determined to save Alex from himself.
Six months after the events in The Dragon Warrior, Faryn is stronger, wiser, and still a kid who misses her family at heart. Katie Zhao manages to find the perfect balance in creating a character who fully understands the enormous weight that’s been put on her shoulders and is up to the task, and is still able to crack jokes and bicker like your typical twelve year old. Despite all that she’s lost and all of the responsibility that’s been foisted upon her, Faryn Liu is ultimately the same brave warrior that her Ye Ye raised her to be. In all honesty, reading The Fallen Hero made me feel like some kind of proud auntie – Faryn consistently finds herself faced with difficult decisions, but when her gut tells her that something is right, she commits herself to that feeling completely. She might not think that she is grounded in her identity, but Faryn has a quiet yet infallible sense of self that cannot be taught.
The Fallen Hero incorporates all of the elements that made me fall in love with The Dragon Warrior, but with higher stakes and new allies as Faryn fights to save humanity from the Jade Emperor. Faryn and her companions must fulfill several dangerous quests before they can convince the Monkey King to aid them in their battle, one of which leads them to Diyu, the Underworld in Chinese mythology. While the glossary at the end of the book is definitely helpful, Zhao does a great job in easing in new figures from Chinese mythology in a way that is humorous and memorable.
While it might seem counterintuitive to say that The Fallen Hero is a story about family, since Faryn and Alex are estranged throughout the course of the book, that is exactly what it is. Faryn’s journey to Diyu helps her realize that she’s not as alone as she thinks, that she is cared for and watched over, and that she does belong somewhere after all – everyone needs a reminder of this every once and awhile, but I think it is an especially powerful message for diaspora children struggling to reconcile different aspects of their identities.
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.
Links for The Fallen Hero
Add it on Goodreads!
Follow along with the rest of the tour via Caffeine Book’s launch post!