Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Rick Riordan Presents)

Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordan Presents)

Yoon Ha Lee, Author

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brother and sister, Space adventure, Korean Mythology, Magical creatures, Ghosts, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Min comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mothers insists that none of them use any fox magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. She dreams of joining the Space Forces like her older brother, Jun. Together they dream of seeing all of the Thousand Worlds and to find a way to help their own neglected, dust-ridden and impoverished planet, Jinju. 

When a special investigator arrives at Min’s home and informs her family that Jun is suspected of deserting the Space Force with other cadets to go search for the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is very wrong. Jun wound never desert his battle cruiser, Pale Lightning, even for a powerful mystical object.  Min has only one option — to search for Jun. Using her fox-magic, she uses her shape-shifting and Charm casting abilities to navigate gamblers, pirates, vengeful ghosts and sneak onto find her brother’s ship. 

 What to like about this book:

This is the second Rick Riordan Presents novel I’ve reviewed (even though I didn’t read his series.)  The blurb I remember seeing for Dragon Pearl was “space opera meets Korean mythology.” This pretty much encapsulates the book.  It isn’t contemporary, but crafted out of Korean mythological themes. The mythology is never explained in this compelling story, because it is the the foundation for the world and characters.

Dragon Pearl is high adventure with a lot of risks. The world-building is seamless. Min is a courageous character dedicated to finding her brother and clearing his name, while risking her own life at the same time. Her fox traits (like heightened hearing and scent recognition) are an immense help to her. And she is clever with charms that distract and manipulate people. There are many unexpected plot twists in Dragon Pearl and a special ending that surprised me. I love not being able to guess the ending and won’t give away any SPOILERS.  

Kudos to Yoon Ha Lee for the way she handles gender variances as an accepted fact of life. Cadets in the Space Force wear pronoun pins that tell them how to refer to each other. Lee also addresses racism through the tension between the supernatural beings, like the dragons, goblins, tigers, and foxes.

I recommend Dragon Pearl to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, mythology and space adventures. It will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination. I hope there is a sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean American who grew up in both Texas and South Korea, learning folktales of wily foxes, shape-shifting tigers, and benevolent dragons. Yoon was inspired to write about foxes in space because everything is better in space — except the ice cream. Yoon is also the author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy: Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun. For more information, follow Yoon on Twitter @motomaratai. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star: A Gifted Clans Novel

Graci Kim, Author (Rick Riordan Presents)

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 

Pages: 336

Themes: Witchcraft, Sisters, Quest, Goddesses, Korean Mythology, Korean Americans, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister, Hattie, get initiated into the Gom clan — a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has been part of for generations. Hattie will get her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram – a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: What if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance. To save her, Riley has to accomplish an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what is the star, and how can she find it? 

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it means to belong.

What to love about this book:

Since Graci Kim’s book is newly released and is sure to be a bestseller and favorite among readers, I will be careful not to give away any spoilers.

I was mesmerized by The Last Fallen Star!  I could not put it down. I normally take notes or put tabs in parts of a book I want to share, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. Her illustrious writing skills and beautiful world-building are perfect for this thrilling action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. What an exciting way to learn about Korean mythology, witch clans, goddesses, and magical creatures with a contemporary Korean-American twist! I fell in love with this world right away! And I can’t forget to mention all the savory Korean food. 

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley is an outcast because she is adopted and not gifted with a magical talent. Her heart longs to really belong to the Gom Clan. She wants to be a healer one day, but she’s vulnerable. She faces prejudice from both adults and peers. But what she really wants is to be accepted for who she truly is. Hattie is the best sister ever and loves Riley so much that she takes dangerous risks to share her own power with Riley. Riley couldn’t ask for a better friend in Emmett, who is somewhat of an outcast since his mother was a witch and his father a saram. He really understands Riley and supports her —  and he is funny, brave and loyal! There are many more characters and creatures that are lovable and evil, but they will find their way into the hearts of readers. In fact, I would love to have Boris in my life. You’ll have to read the novel to know who/what Boris is!

The fast-paced plot is complex with so many turns, that readers will enjoy being surprised! It is hard to guess what will happen next. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all — in fact I didn’t know what to expect. Readers will be interested in knowing that there will be more to Gifted Clans series with The Last Fallen Moon scheduled for release in the summer of 2022.  There is a lot more territory to cover in this mythical world. Make sure you read the introduction by Rick Riordan and check out his short interview with Graci Kim below.

Gracie Kim is a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. The Last Fallen Star is her middle grade debut. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

Rick Riordan is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which brings Greek mythology to life for contemporary readers. The goal of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish highly entertaining books by authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to allow them to tell their own stories inspired by the mythology, folklore, and culture of their heritage. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan. Visit him at his website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.