By: Dori Jones Yang
Publisher: A Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: January 2011
Dori Jones Yang has done an outstanding job of combining a romance that is truly larger than life, with a famous historical backdrop that will offer young adults an amazing look at an Empire that, for a time, held the power of the universe in its hands.
Princess Emmajin is the oldest granddaughter of the Great Khubilai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Empire. But she’s not like the other women of the large, historical family; she wants no part of palace life that includes exchanging gossip and sitting around in fine clothing eating rich foods and wanting nothing but gold and pearls. Emmajin wants to be a valiant solider. She wants to prove to her mighty grandfather that she is just as good – if not better – than her masculine counterparts. Excelling at archery and horseback riding, Emmajin stands beside her favorite cousin, Suren, her eyes glowing with desire, as the victorious troops come riding back into the city – banners waving, crowds cheering – knowing that they are the men who have helped create a true dynasty.
Emmajin is beyond upset that all her father seems to want her to do is work for peace and find a man who will take care of her so that she can be a “good little wife.” Although her father is the eldest son of Khan, he had long ago fled from army life, choosing to live in a monastery and study the peaceful existence that he believes his father should promote, not the huge metal-adorned army at his fingertips running roughshod over the people of other lands, destroying them for his own personal gain. Emmajin doesn’t agree. When each new son of some lieutenant is brought into her home that she needs to impress, she simply can’t do it. She was born to be a warrior…not a wife.
When foreigners come to visit the mighty Empire, Emmajin finally gets her shot at proving to her grandfather that she can be of valuable service to him. Not yet getting the chance to fight, instead Khan tells Emmajin that he needs her to become a spy – make friends with the new foreigners and find out the inside information on their land and how he can find a way to make it his own.
As they head to the summer palace in Xanadu, Emmajin begins her mission and makes friends with the young man named Marco Polo, who traveled far and wide to get to the much-maligned Mongol Empire with his family. Together, Emmajin and Marco become friends – he giving her the secret information she needs to be welcomed into Khan’s army, and he being given a lovely amazing girl who can hit a target a mile away with her arrow while on the back of a speeding horse.
As these two different worlds collide, Emmajin must suddenly choose between the life of a warrior that she’s desperately wanted all her life, and the love that she feels growing inside her soul for a man who would become one of the world’s greatest explorers and story-tellers.
Even though the character of Emmajin is fictional, as well as the romance between she and Marco Polo, the locations and history of the Mongol Empire are truly fascinating to read about. Readers will be drawn in so completely that they will actually feel the sun on their skin as they look up and see Khan’s massive body draped in white brocade heralding the army that, for a time, was made up of giants who would stop at nothing to conquer the world.