Zachary Ying always feels somewhat of an outsider. He and his mother escaped to America from China, after his Hui father was killed for speaking up against the government’s oppression of Muslims. But his mother has never had time to teach him about Chinese culture. When a new boy, Simon Li, joins the school, he tries to talk about his heritage with Zach and is horrified that he knows so little. Their one common interest is a gaming platform called ‘Mythrealm’ and Zach discovers that Simon is actually one of the best players in the world. He also discovers that he is a descendent of the first emperor of China and that the spirit of the emperor wants to link with him in order to find ancient artifacts and seal the entrance to the underworld. Unfortunately, the linking does not go to plan and the emperor is only linked to Zach’s AR headset. Together with the spirits of two other major emperors and their hosts, Zach must follow his quest to save the world.
This is a truly amazing and exciting quest story for middle grade children. The combination of Chinese history, myths and modern gaming really works well and will attract a wide range of readers. At the core of this we have the relationship between Zach and his mother; because of their background their relationship is very strong, so throughout the story we find that Zach’s decisions are based on whether he thinks he can help his mother (who is in hospital with a mysterious condition). We also have the relationship between Zach and the spirit emperors; after all they are some of the strongest and most feared rulers in history and they have a very direct way of dealing with those who get in their way. Given these circumstances, can Zach trust the supposed ‘good guys’, or do they all have something that they are hiding from him? The story leaves us on something of a cliff-hanger and I can’t wait to find out what happens in the follow up.