Title: Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon
Author: Mary Fan
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Imprint: Page Street Kids
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ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.
An epic, adventure-filled steampunk fantasy, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon is sure to take readers on a hero’s quest full of magic, danger, and action.
When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as godssend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection – if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.
Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.
I must admit, steampunk is one of the subgenres that I haven’t been exposed to much. So when I saw this book, I took my chance. And boy, it was more than worth it.
From plot to setting to characters, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon was and had everything I wanted in a Fantasy. It threw together a mix of elements I never thought would go so well together – magic, lore, machines – all played in a backdrop inspired by Qing dynasty China. Mary Fan’s careful plotting shone throughout, all the twists and turns making the adventure joyride that was this book even more enjoyable.
But it didn’t start out that way for me.
While they ultimately ended up growing on me, for the first few chapters of the book Anlei and Tai seemed too troupe-y: Anlei playing the strong female character card who can and will kick anyone’s ass and Tai taking on the role of the charming but arrogant love interest. As the story progressed and their backstories were spilled though, I began to understand their motives and their nuances. Yes, Anlei is a tough girl, stubborn and incredibly capable but she’s also a daughter and a member of their small village’s community. She craved glory and adventure the same way her blood called for her to avenge her father’s murder, to protect her family, her village, and her people.
Tai, meanwhile, has a complicated history. Half-yueshen (pure spiritual beings who has free reign over the moon) and half-human, I think he doesn’t really know his place in the world. The yueshen won’t accept him into their realm because he’s half-breed, while his father hid him, foisting his care onto his servants. He likes to think the best of the family left to him and uses laughter and humor as both an armor and mask to hide behind.
It was wonderful watching Anlei and Tai grow close to each other. Even though they started out as begrudging allies (more from Anlei’s side rather than Tai’s,) the two eventually discover that they have more in common than they first thought. Both have noble causes, and the subsequent trials and hardships they faced together only served to peel back more and more layers of their characters. I couldn’t help but like them.
Though this was a mostly solid story, there were still a few details that could have been improved. The villain, Viceroy Kang, comes to mind immediately. As the main antagonist, he was typical – power-hungry and cruel – and unimpressive. It was a shallow rendering of a character that’s supposed to provoke our protagonists into taking action. His motivations were only briefly touched, and it left me with a few unanswered questions: Had he always planned the things he’d done even before he married Tai’s yueshen mother? Is that why he caught her and married her in the first place? I can live with these questions, but they’re just pesky enough to bug me.
The quick pace combined with the number of plot threads Fan tossed into the story could also sometimes be overwhelming. There were just too much happening at one single time, and, admittedly, I had to put the book down a couple of times to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
Overall, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon was an exceptional stand-alone that blended together steampunk and fantasy. This was one of the most vividly and creatively imagined stories I’ve read in a while. Though there were a few parts that could have been improved, they were minor and didn’t hinder me from enjoying the book. This one comes with high recommendations from this self-confessed fantasy lover.
MARY FAN is a hopeless dreamer whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books – a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil.
Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.
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