Friday, July 15, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu- Dori Jones Yang

This is one of those books I got an ARC of ages ago and forgot about, but then when I remembered I had it, I wondered why no one I know ever mentions this book.
This book is awesome.  For one thing, it's set in Mongolia and the main character is the oldest granddaughter of Khubilai Khan.
Her name is Emmajin, and instead of wanting to marry some guy and live the boring life of a Mongol woman, she dreams of glory on the battlefield.
She and her cousin, Suren, are close in age and have spent their childhood practicing archery and fighting with each other.  Suren is about to be sent off with an army, and Emmajin wants to go too.
But before she can try to prove herself on the battlefield, she is given the job of spying on a certain foreigner in the court- Marco Polo. To do this, she must befriend him and ask about his home so that the Mongol army can find a way to subdue them and take them under the great Khan's rule.
This book was hard to put down.  I was fascinated with the Mongolian culture, especially from a Mongol's point of view.  Usually all we hear is that they conquered various people and the various people were not happy about it.  In this story, we hear about what the Mongolians think, as well as the perspective of others.  Marco Polo's ideals are not like those of Emmajin.  She thinks he must be weak and unmanly since he does not fight in battles.  After a while, she starts to see the value of his culture.  As her character develops, Emmajin starts to see other things she can do with her life.  She had thought that all she could do was either be someone's wife or be a warrior.  Being exposed to different cultures and people opens her mind in ways she never expected.
Historical novels can be hit or miss-- there's a lot of areas of history people tend to focus on and they often only give one perspective (i.e., the Holocaust is most often told by people who suffered from it), but this one is definitely a unique one.  While Emmajin is a fictional character, you can still learn quite a lot about Khubilai Khan and the world at that time.  It's also presented in a way that makes everything interesting, even what food they ate.

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