Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang
Published January 11, 2011
Daughter of Xanadu was an interesting read for me as I have never read any books about the Mongolian empire so it was fascinating to read about it. Plus, I am not a huge historical fiction buff so this book was certainly different than what I usually read. Also, since I’m not real familiar with the Mongolian empire dynasty historical facts, I don’t know how much the author followed the actual history especially with the Marco Polo aspect. Regardless, this was a book that didn’t immediately draw you in – it took me a few chapters and then some to become slowly drawn in to Emmajin’s world of horseback riding, archery, and other “manly” skills.
Emmajin Beki was a certainly fascinating character – as the granddaughter of the great Khan, she lived a relatively lavish lifestyle yet rather than doing what usual girls her age were doing such as participating in court gossip and finding a possible suitor in marriage, her dream was to become a soldier in the great Khan’s army so she spent most of her time fighting, horseback riding and honing her archery skills. She definitely underwent a journey of self-growth and self-understanding as she changed from a girl who initially wanted to be a simple soldier to a woman who started to understand different feelings and desires by seeing things from different people’s eyes. Personally I did not find her exactly relatable but at the same time, I understood her and her values and beliefs. She is certainly a strong female character and was able to find her place in a male-dominated society. She also found her voice to speak up even though it was frowned upon and even unheard of for a female to offer wisdom and advice to the Khan.
Marco Polo was the Latin man in the book – the foreigner visiting the great Mongolian empire. He honestly was not a huge part of the book – the only times he showed up was when he was interacting with Emmajin or when Emmajin was thinking about him. Otherwise, much of him seemed to still be a mystery to me. The one thing I liked most about him was the fact that he challenged Emmajin to see more of the world around her – rather than narrowing her eyes at the empire only and serving the Khan only, he forced her to look at her beliefs with a new set of eyes. This allowed her to see Mongolians in a way other people saw them and this made her understand certain aspects that she had never thought of before. Maybe the sequel of this book will allow a better understand of Marco Polo and where he came from; however, I doubt I will actually read it.
The writing style is something I would like to touch upon here. For the most part, I enjoyed the vivid imagery that Dori drew out for me; however, there was a sense of this sort of wall between me and the characters. In some books, it is so easy for the readers to immerse themselves in the book completely but for Daughter of Xanadu, there was always that veil that somehow never allowed me to fully step into their world. There was always a clear distinction between my world and the Mongolian empire world that just never crossed. Perhaps it’s because it’s a historical fiction in a place I cannot really relate to but nonetheless, it was something that always nagged at the back of my head.
Overall, I would recommend this book to those who really enjoy historical fiction and for those who are interested in reading a book that is a little more diverse rather than the heavy-Western characters we usually have in YA.