When young Grace is bullied by some older boys who tell her she doesn’t belong because her father is Chinese and her mother is white, her dad tells her the legend of an ancient Chinese emperor who gave his fiercest warriors a drop of his immortal blood. Just like Grace, these warriors were mistrusted because of their dual backgrounds, but according to legend, the emperor’s gift gave them the strength of dragons and, more importantly, courage and compassion. The message is clear: Grace herself must use these qualities to face her own life’s trials. Perfect for fantasy-adventure fans of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series or the Wings of Fire graphic novels, City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm has plenty of high-stakes action, but also delves into what it means to embrace dual racial and cultural identities.
Flash forward three years after the bullying incident. Grace’s dad has died of cancer and Grace moves from the U.S. to Hong Kong with her mom and new step-dad, who is white like her mother and happens to be the doctor who treated her dad’s cancer. At her new elite private school, Grace quickly makes friends with a racially diverse group of friends who have an equally diverse skill set—there’s the technology-savvy Ramesh, brainy James, and Hong Kong native Jing who’s fluent in Cantonese.
When a woman in the marketplace gives Grace an egg and tells her she is Hùnxué, it’s Jing who explains that means mixed blood—just like the warriors from the legend Grace’s dad told her. The pieces start to fall together when Grace’s egg hatches a blue water dragon and the four tweens are hunted down by a black-suited security detail intent on acquiring the dragon at any cost. Although the plot leans heavily on familiar tropes (will anyone be surprised when it turns out the step-dad is the power hungry bad guy?), there is lots to like in this adventure, including loads of Chinese dragon lore, a sea goddess, magical gems, a cave with ancient prophecies written on its walls, and danger at every turn. The manga-style drawings are complemented by richly saturated colors and dynamic panels that draw the reader in and keep the fast-paced action moving; the dragon spreads are particularly magnificent. Ultimately, just as Grace’s dad taught her, it’s courage and compassion that are needed to save the day and Grace has plenty of it. Though the immediate danger is vanquished, the story ends with a hint at more dragons to be awakened in the coming volumes.
City of Dragons, vol. 1: The Awakening Storm
By Jaimal Yogis
Art by Vivian Truongg
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Representation: Chinese-American