Looking for a book for teens who crave adventure, romance, strong heroines, an exotic setting, and plenty of action? Look no further than Daughter of Xanadu, a 2011 release from author Dori Jones Yang.
East meets West in this tale of the fictional Princess Emmajin, an athletic, strong, and of course, beautiful young woman who keeps up with her male cousins in all kinds of athletic pursuits. She dreams of joining the army of her grandfather, the Great Khubilai Khan, and pursuing glory on the battlefield for the Mongol Empire, then at the peak of its power. She does not wish for a conventional pampered life of court gossip, marriage, and children like the other young Mongol women who surround her.
But Emmajin does not expect to meet the charming, handsome young merchant Marco Polo, who has come from the faraway city of Venezia, in a land known as Christendom not yet ruled by the Great Khan. They meet in Xanadu, the Khan's summer palace, with its lush and magical gardens described in Marco Polo's writings and inspiring the famous Coleridge poem. The Great Khan himself has asked Emmajin to get to know the foreigner, with the goal of gathering intelligence on their distant country. But as she gets to know the young Marco, she finds herself more and more attracted to his foreign ways, from his clear light eyes, to his strange red beard, to his lilting accent when speaking the Mongol tongue, to his gift for storytelling. As her heart's desire of galloping off with the army seems more and more possible, she is torn between her loyalty to Khan and country and her attraction to Marco.
What an impossible situation! I had always been loyal to my Khan and my people, but now that loyalty required me to make an enemy of a man who was gradually becoming my friend.When fate makes them traveling partners as they travel across China together, Emmajin with a military unit and Marco on a secret mission for the Khan, they grow even closer as they share many adventures together. But Emmajin knows Marco is not a suitable match as a husband for a Mongol princess--how will she handle this forbidden attraction, when his casual touch makes her tingle with desire?
Without divulging the ending, let me just comment that while the conclusion will probably please teen readers, it does not seem totally in keeping with the Mongol culture described in the novel. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed this swashbuckling tale of medieval China. Emmajin is a passionate, strong heroine facing difficult life choices as she is torn between her own ambition, what society and her family expect of her, and her forbidden attraction to a foreigner. Marco Polo himself has great appeal as a foil to the valiant Emmajin. The book is carefully researched, and full of fascinating vignettes of the exotic Mongol culture and how, at this time period, it was changing and absorbing more Chinese elements, ranging from palace architecture to the drinking of tea. Also noteworthy is the contrast between Mongol and Christian culture of the time, and the Khan's interest in hosting foreigners from all over the world.
Some readers may think the author was inspired to write this tale by the legend of Mulan, the Chinese woman who dressed like a man to take her elderly father's place in the army, she was in fact by the story of Ai-Jaruk or Khutulun, an actual niece of Khubilai Khan who accompanied the army on military campaign. Her story was told by Marco Polo in his memoirs.
If you are interested in winning a copy of this exciting new novel, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address so that I can contact you if you are the winner, which will be chosen through a random number generator on Sunday, January 23.
And watch for a guest post from author Dori Jones Yang tomorrow, telling us more about the fascinating research she did to write this historical novel.
Below is a book trailer with footage from the author's research trips to China.