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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor | Review

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐

"Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever."


Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is the first novel in a new MG fantasy series by Xiran Jay Zhao.


First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for giving me the opportunity to review this in advance. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the official release.


I am not the right person for this book as this is not my age demographic, and I knew that going into this. Nevertheless, I still wanted to give it a shot and, unfortunately, I wasn't a huge fan of this book. I found myself enjoying the history more than the actual story which wasn't exactly what I wanted from this book.

Let's get into the details.



I found the writing to be a bit mediocre but, again, this is a middle-grade novel so that probably won't be an issue for the younger audience. I also wasn't a fan of when dialogue would be coming through the game interphase as it came off as awkward.


This is Percy Jackson meets Ready Player One with a dash of Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. There is no hiding how this was influenced by Percy Jackson, which was an issue for me as I liked that book in theory but not in execution, and the same could be said for this.

We follow Zach, a Chinese-American who must go on a journey to save his mom after he became the host for the legendary emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Aside from the fact that the formula for this is the same as Percy Jackson, I was not a fan of the addition of a virtual reality game. I tend to stray away from books and manga/manhwa when the plot involves something like that, and I probably should have with this book as well.

As a story where ancient figures are still currently active in the present, I found it to be a bit awkward. The way they tried to integrate modern culture was a bit cringey to me.

As for the magic system, it was not unlike others I have seen before. I didn't hate the idea of it, that because of people perpetuating stories about the figures, they gain whatever ability is tied to those stories. Still though, I found the system to be a bit wonky for lack of a better word. One specific issue I had with the magic system was the inclusion of fictional characters from folktales as it put a hole in the story.


I felt lukewarm about most of the characters who were hosts and was more interesting in all of the historical figures (and their character profiles as they were amusing). I knew a fair amount of the historical figures in this, but it was nice to learn more about ancient Chinese history through this.

Zach, as the main character, was like Percy to me. I didn't connect with either of them because they were kids, and kids make bad decisions and can be cruel. Like, for example, the fact that Zach didn't want to bother his mom with his issue with making friends, but threw away the food she made for him because they were bothered with the smell.


If you liked Percy Jackson, you are probably going to like this as well. I didn't really and the same could be said for this.

If you came for the historical aspect like I did, I would recommend something like Drifters or Kingdom, which are mangas/animes.

If you are looking for something with a similar magic system, there are tons of leveling manga and manhwa out there, such as Solo Leveling. Keep in mind though that they are for an older audience.

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