Stronger Than a Bronze Dragonby Published 11 Jun 2019
|Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon.pdf|
|Publisher||Page Street Kids|
When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as a godsend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection—if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.
Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.
With incredibly vivid world building and fast-paced storytelling, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon is great for readers who are looking for something fresh in epic fantasy.
Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon Reviews
3.5 stars, rounded to four because dragons
Anlei's village is under attack from strange ghost monsters—and all seems well when the viceroy swoops in and saves them with his fleet of mechanical dragons. Until he demands the village's famed (and worthless) River Pearl as tribute—and one of the villagers to take as his bride. No one is more surprised than Anlei when he chooses her, and she's dragged to the province's capital to be wed. All bets are off, however, when a mysterious thief steals the River Pearl. Anlei decides to save her village and capture the thief and the Pearl—except the thief has a good reason to steal it...
Aside from the Chinese-based world, this is a pretty standard YA fare. Only the Chinese influenced world-building and the steampunk nature of automatons, mechanical dragons and flying ships distinguish this one from the scores of YA fantasies with painfully similar plots.
This is literally the plot (spoilers removed): super special girl is special and Not Like Other Girls™️ because she is a warrior and wants to fight and be free from societal obligations placed on women. Her village is attack and she saves them, then is forced to marry the Powerful Man for ~reasons~. She goes on a quest, meets The Boi, and they have adventures and must save the entire world from Evil. There is a giant plot twist [spoilers removed]. After about two weeks of knowing each other, girl and boi love each other fiercely and do anything to save each other. The end.
Anlei is nothing special in terms of YA heroines. She's the best warrior on the planet, and a fantastic acrobat, despite never practicing either of these things on page. She also is dyslexic, which was an interesting twist, but I rolled my eyes because she used it to explain that she wasn't a simple-minded peasant, she just couldn't read because characters took extra concentration. Simple peasant girl basically told her noble-born love interest that she's not like the other people in her village. I put that poorly but it annoyed me. Also, her younger sister is a genius inventor.
Tai is your generic YA love interest. Mysterious. Tragic background. Soft-hearted but also heroic. Very smart. Wields a staff. Obviously a prince of some sort. Did I mention the tragedy?
There's also the Magical Black Character trope, so that was fun.
And a powerful dude who wants to marry Anlei because she'd make a beautiful bride but...why? Like, literally. Why? Sure she's pretty and has spirit but his motivations for wanting to marry her just made no sense whatsoever. He pretty much spends the entire book twirling his mustache (I don't know if he actually has a mustache, but his queue or whatever).
Anywho, these are all the negatives.
That cover (and the title) are absolutely gorgeous.
I did enjoy the plot quite a bit. I was entertained and engaged throughout, even if there was nothing too special (it went through beats rather methodically) going on. Being predictable doesn't mean bad. I did like the Asian steampunk part of it, and how these integrated with the plot and the world. I also liked the ghosts and spirits.
Also, there's a good discussion throughout the book about the fate of women. In the story there is a legend of a famous Warrioress, who had many amazing adventures and was rewarded with marriage to a king and the end of her story. Anlei is worried that marriage will be the end to her own story, and is tired of the hero's journey—there are numerous parallels, as Tai is the one given the magical sword, it is Tai's quest she is joining, and Tai who will be the one remembered in legend for saving the people. [spoilers removed]
Overall, this wasn't a ~great~ book but it wasn't bad, either. It was enjoyable, if laden with tropes (and wooden characters) that it couldn't quite overcome, and had an interesting concept with steampunk dragons and ghosts/spirit people.
If you overlook the prerequisite forced twu wuv 4eva aspect, it's a solidly standard YA fantasy novel.
I think if I had read this five years ago, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more.
I received this from NetGalley for an honest review.
If you're a reader of diverse books and want to know what representations this book offers, find the diversity tags here.
CHINESE-INSPIRED FANTASY WITH A REFRESHING TAKE ON WELL-LOVED TROPES
For the first few chapters, I found the characters to be a little too trope-y, namely, “tough cookie” female and arrogant love interest. However, as I continued reading, I began to see them in a new, more positive light. The little complexities in their characters, particularly their individual motivations and desires, allowed them to break out of their trope-y molds, which I really appreciated.
INCREDIBLY UNIQUE WORLD-BUILDING & ENDLESSLY FASCINATING ELEMENTS (FT. MECHANICAL DRAGONS & ANGRY SWORD-WIELDING BRIDES)
I am also extremely happy to note that Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon is a brave and thoughtful commentary on poverty, privilege, social issues, and corruption. With a heroine hailing from a poor village that’s often overlooked by its government, this book portrays poverty in a nuanced way that leaves no room for romanticization or glamorization. More importantly, it depicts harsh truths that need to be addressed: the helplessness of poor communities (e.g. their inability to bite the hand that feeds them), literacy and education as inaccessible privileges, and how politics and the self-interests of those in power contribute to class oppression.
Moreover, the story carefully delves into filial piety, tradition, duty and obligation – themes that are inherently significant to Chinese culture, as well as to some other Asian cultures. I particularly loved the strong family themes and the complexities that come with them.
I don’t think I’m really exaggerating when I say that the steampunk and fantasy elements in this book totally blew me away, and I still haven’t fully recovered! Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon features pure spiritual beings (yueshen), cursed spirit abominations (ligui), demons from literal Hell, cyborg soldiers, and mechanical dragons – and I loved how these creatures were incorporated into this fantastical world. Absolutely brilliant is all I can say, to be honest.
BRILLIANT SUBVERSION OF THE TRADITIONAL HERO’S JOURNEY
At its heart, the plot is about an unlikely hero embarking on a dangerous quest – in this case, literal Hell – for a noble cause. However, it’s also so much more than that. As a whole, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon is a brilliantly written subversion of the traditional hero’s journey. It is a heartfelt ode to family and to valuing one’s roots (which are typical aspects of a hero’s journey), but it also sparks a thoughtful discourse regarding fighting in the name of nobility and pursuing a cause for the sake of glory. It follows the adventure a hero undergoes to singlehandedly save his loved ones, but it also depicts the necessity of overthrowing a powerful, corrupted system through collective efforts. Most importantly, it is about encouraging women to reclaim their stories and to lead their own adventures.
With a wildly imaginative world where steampunk technology and magic collide and a complex plot that will keep you guessing, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon certainly makes for a challenging read — but with that challenge comes a truly rewarding experience.
* Read the rest of this review in my natural habitat!
i totally forgot every single dynasty i studied in chinese history class, but hello chinese warrior girls ♥♥♥
I think I will forever be in love with Asian fantasy okay
Maybe it's because there is just SO MUCH complicated history to pull inspiration from. Maybe it's because katanas always gave me heart-eyes as a wee child. Maybe it's because I first saw Mulan and thought "finally a girl I really connect with". Either way, pretty much anything Asian-centric or inspired usually has my entire heart and soul . And while this book didn't get the entirety of that from me like I had hoped, it got pretty close!!
B U T
For some reason I thought this was part of a series?? So when there came a point that I thought the book would be winding up for a cliffhanger finale, I kept getting confused by the end of one plot arc leading into another! Also, while this was intense and epic and like a classic Asian saga featuring much travel and monsters . . . it kinda felt a bit too long in some areas. I kept wanting a few scenes tightened (or possibly even skipped) as they kind of felt out-of-place in the overall story. It was these few pacing/plot issues that kept me from fully loving this book.
Also there is a sad, sad lack of any food in here!! For some reason, the majority of the Asian fantasies I read usually have at least ONE lavishly described meal that I can drool over and dream of crisp roasted duck and ginger noodles . . . and then just face reality and hit up my local Chinese take-out for dumplings. So the lack of food descriptions, or really the lack of the characters actually EATING, during their long, crazy adventure made this feel a bit flat. Also, there is a great lack of bronze dragons, especially for a book that literally has them mentioned in the title . . .
And now some bullet points because I am lazy and forgetful:
- Anlei is fierce . . . but at some times I found her a little too fierce?? Lighten up, girl!
- Tai was pretty much the right blend of suave and mysterious and sassy. Did I find this a bit cliche at times? Oh, yes. Did I really care? Nah, son.
- I guess this is meant to be steampunk but all the mentions of mechanics seemed a bit awkward??
- honestly the whole arranged marriage plot arc could have not existed cause it was weird
- I am a little grumpy about plot decisions
- again about Anlei but I'm sorry but she was just always I'M TOUGH!! I CAN FIGHT!! I GOTTA DO REVENGE!! ANGST AND ANGER!! And so even though I super enjoyed her and Tai's banter as their relationship blossomed, it just really ended up feeling super cliche to me in an unenjoyable way . . .
- okay I do really like the banter in here!!
- also THE FIGHTING was epic
- I wished there had been more dragons of all kinds
And also some thoughts on Anlei & Tai :
For some reason I kept getting like fanfic Zutara vibes from them, minus of course the heavier angst + bending.
They were quirky enough that I did genuinely ship them. I loved their banter scenes. I enjoyed seeing how their relationship blossomed and grew into the final product. And while I kinda wished maaaaaybe there'd been some slightly steamy moments (I live for a very odd, specific type of sexual tension okay) it was still cute and light and thankfully didn't take over the plot.
A N Y W A Y S
Even though it felt like the author was trying too hard on many levels, this was still very good. It delivered what I wanted, which was an action-y Asian-inspired tale with some dragons, epic fight scenes, a decent adventure plot, a cutesy rivals-to-more romance, and magic to make me happy enough.
ARC provided in exchange for an honest review
Woot woot! Just got an ARC of this and I am thrilled! This cover is beautiful and the synopsis is SO GOOD.