Saturday, 17 September 2011

Book Review: Daughter of Xandu by Dori Jones Yang


Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.

My thoughts

The reason that made me want to pick Daughter of Xandu up is although I'm an avid YA historical fiction reader- as many of you will know- I've never read something set in the Mongolian empire before because of the typical setting being the Tudor or Victorian eras. So something different and fresh sounded a lot of fun! 

The narrator is the beautiful and headstrong Princess Emmajin  who is determined to be just like her boy cousins and dreams of doing the impossible: serving her country in the Mongol army when no women has ever done so before. All through her childhood, she has heard stories of glory on the battlefield that her ancestors experienced that have been told from age to age. It is a life like this that she craves instead of the seemingly dull and pointless frivolities and pampering of court life or the duties that come from marriage and children.

I loved the character of Emmajin and really connected with her character early on her book because although she has  seemingly impossible aspirations, she is not afraid to pursue them but keeps herself grounded, with the realisation that she may have to accept the life she has been born into lo. On one hand she is strong and fierce when practising horse riding and archery but she is also shy around some people, making her realistically flawed. She endures tough times to try and achieve her dreams but throughout the book she really develops  as a young women and she begins to see the world through different eyes  as she gets to know the initially distrusted strange foreigner Marco Paolo.

Emmajin's relationship with Marco Paolo- the foreigner from far away Venice  in Christendom (Europe) she was asked to spy on by the Great Khan- was something that I really enjoyed seeing develop, grow and change during the course of the book. Their initial distrust of each other slowly changes and Emmajin is fascinated by his tales of Europe and his beloved Venice and he loyalty to her country is tested. It was lovely how they were from completely different backgrounds but they found so much in common and could really understood each other. The end to their story might not be all that realistic but for what was was described of the time before but it left me happy and that's what matters most. Before reading this book, I didn't know the first thing about Paolo apart from the fact he was a famous historical person so I'm happy to say I now know a lot more and it was really interesting to find out about his story! Oh, and did I mention he's handsome too?

The other characters in the story felt very real too and were well written even though there was quite a wide array. I really wish there could be a sequel to this book so I could read more about them!

The best historical fiction makes you feel like  the period the book is set in  so familiar and alive and that's what Daughter of Xandu succeeded in doing- excellently! Knowing nothing about the culture of the Mongol empire, I was fascinated to learn about the different traditions, the harsh life in army, the system of the royal family and the empire. Whilst the story was not loaded with description, the fact that Dori Jones Yang actually went to the places the book is set and hunted down the spot of the ancient site Xandu is clear. One part I especially enjoyed reading was the account of a ferocious battle between the Mongols and the Burmese, where they used elephants and other tactics. 

Verdict: Daughter of Xandu is an enthralling and fast paced tale that was special for me because of it's unique setting in Mongolia at the time of the great Kubai Khan featuring Marco Paolo, a strong willed heroine with a big dream, tons of adventure and of course romance. If you like historical fiction or even just a story with heart, then I'd definitely recommend it!

Rating: 5 stars


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! Its one of my favorite books this year for sure! You hit it on the nail with all the reasons I enjoyed this one. Like you said I'd never read a historical fiction novel with a setting in the Mongolian empire before Daughter of Xanadu either. I thought the writing was beautiful and the characters were very real :)

  2. This sounds like a fun read - I always enjoy books with strong female leads. Did it remind you a bit of Mulan?

  3. Exactly the same as what Khadija said. Just loved this and it easily sits among the top of my favourites list.

    @Sam: For me, what really separates this book from Mulan, is that we're kind of seeing the events that were covered in Mulan from the "enemy's" perspective. We're led to believe that the Mongols are this evil civilisation, when actually this perspective just throws that out the window. The whole book is just outstanding.

    I really recommend it!

  4. This sounds great! I'm so glad you reviewed it because I was kinda iffy about it before. Now I'll bump it up the TBR.

  5. I had never read a book about this time period either, so this was an instant attraction for me. And I really enjoyed it too -- for exactly the reasons you stated. Great review. Thanks for bringing this all back to me!

  6. This has been on my list of to-read books for a little bit now. I really want to read this, but it's not at my local library yeah. Great review!

  7. This sounds right down my alley. I've been wanting to read some historical fiction set in exotic places. This is definitely on my TBR now.

  8. I've wanted to read this for awhile. Thanks for the great review reminding me to hurry up and read it!

  9. Wow, 5 stars! Sounds like you really loved this one. I haven't heard that much about Daughter of Xanadu, but what I have heard is positive, and it does sound like a fresh offering to the YA historical genre!


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