Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: The Sword Guest by Martin Chu Shui



Dragon's Pupils - The Sword Guest
Title: The Sword Guest
Series: Dragon's Pupils
Author: Martin Chu Shui
Format: eBook
Source: Author

The story centers on Liz, born of half Australian and of half Chinese descent. Growing up in Australia, she isnt very interested in her fathers ancient Chinese stories. She is concerned with problems that are far more contemporary such as environmental issues, and particularly her friends handsome brother who is an environmental activist. But her disinterest in Chinese culture changes when her two worlds collide, after a catastrophic accident sets thousands of ancient monsters loose near her home. Suddenly Liz must learn many new skills and call on all of her Chinese heritage if she is to prevent the monsters from destroying Earth. Helped by her twin brother and best friend, Liz sets out to discover why the monsters exist and how to stop them. When she is injured in a battle, she must travel to China to seek a cure that is spiritual as much as it is physical. But can she find the old man who can help her before the monsters catch her? How will she manage in a country that is so strange and yet so familiar? And can she learn enough about a world she has ignored to stop the monsters in time?




I'm generally not big on dragons, or the "straight stuff" of the fantasy genre, and I haven't read the whole "magical object" focus since His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, so this was another unusual read for me. As I've again been proven in this instance, sometimes it's a really great thing to step beyond the boundaries of a comfort zone. The main characters, Henry, Sue, and Liz, at fourteen, are all younger than the steady 17-19 that the YA genre is crowded right now, and it was also really interesting to see the vast differences in their relativity.

A calligraphy pen with astounding abilities, fearsome dragons, Chinese culture and classic hero-fighting (combated with the level-headedness of Tai Chi instruction rather than a grand mentor) are a fierce and stark contrast with Australia, protests/activism, terrifyingly odd animal behavior, and a couple of fourteen year olds, but that bold mixture actually worked -- and fantastically so.

The tone of the story is really unique. It's observational and funny, but also kindling the scent of "wise retelling" and fresh material. The author definitely harbors an uncanny ability to embody the classic "ole' storyteller" voice, but also manages to relate to the main characters in their youth, capturing unique and interesting personalities in a very creative way. Sometimes it's a bit too excitable, but it suits the piece nearly seamlessly. Aside from that, the writing is very realistic. It captures scene and time well, especially jumping between cultures, countries, and eras.

It really is a great story, embracing two very important reader needs: quick pacing and easy to understand. They contribute beautifully to the anticipation, and the reader is constantly on the edge of their seat.

The Sword Guest is an engrossing tale told like a hurricane: though sometimes it's hard to catch exactly what's going on at first, it's still fierce and engaging. It begins in the calm prior, then darts between the borders and the eye. Something exciting is always happening, and the reader totally feels that. The story starts with what is first interpreted as a parable and later recognized as warned foreboding, and keeps moving.

The premise is absolutely creative and different, and the themes are curiously combined. Paired with genuinely interesting and quirky characters, the Australia-meets-Chinese setting-meets-girl folds in a fascinating dynamic. The culture spun into it all is amazing. Adding in the subplots of environmental issues, protesting and noble causes, heritage, and being made unafraid to embrace one's roots, and there's something special there. It erects an encompassing world, pulls off a lovely cliffhanger, and constructs a piece like no other I've seen. It was different, and simply a fun book to read. It's definitely worth getting caught up in.

Though at times it can feel a little childish - as in recommended for a younger YA, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but the attributes that hint towards a more middle-grade audience still resonate accordingly, and fit the story quite well. Plus, it was balanced out by a great vocab and real-world-dynamic woven throughout the fantasy. Unique and enjoyable, but simple and classic too, it's a great pick for transition, cross-over readers. It's a fantastic way to leave behind Karate Kid, Avatar, Jackie Chan's Adventures, and "The Mummy" phenomena and move into an awesome genre with a lot to offer.

For an indie read, the eBook is surprisingly well formatted and properly edited, giving it the smooth feel of a traditionally published piece. It's recommended :)

I recommend this for fans of The Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson, Weaver by John Abramowitz, Rapture by Phillip Simpson, and any recently-graduated MG-to-YA reader interested in culture or fantasy.

Find it on Goodreads, Smashwords, or Amazon.

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