Daughter of Xanadu, by Dori Jones Yang

When I picked up Dori Jones Yang's novel Daughter of Xanadu, I was hoping to find a fictionalized version of the story of Khutulun, the most famous Mongolian girl of the era. My expectations were totally off* (they usually are), but Yang's novel has charms of its own.

The heroine of Daughter of Xanadu is the fictional 13th century princess Emmajin, granddaughter of the Great Khan Khubilai. Emmajin dreams of joining her grandfather's army, and after she impresses the Khan with her archery skills she's given a task that might allow her to prove her usefulness: spying on the foreign trader Marco Polo. Marco has no skill at the “manly arts” valued by the Mongols, but Emmajin finds herself oddly attracted to him nonetheless—and while she knows their relationship can never develop beyond friendship, she can't help but listen to his very strange opinions about the role of the Mongol Empire.

Yang obviously tried very hard to make Daughter of Xanadu educational, but that came at a cost: her dialogue is frequently stiff, and her romantic storyline is bogged down by too many period-accurate but totally revolting details. (I suspect I was supposed to be touched by a scene in which Marco scrubs Emmajin's feet with sand, but I was still reeling from the description of her toes as “moist and rank”—two words 100% guaranteed to cast a damper over any romantic atmosphere.) Still, I'm always pleased to discover YA writers willing to venture into unfamiliar territory, and Yang manages to cram of boatload of historical and geographical information into her clunky but ambitious coming-of-age story.

*Although I still really, really wish someone would write a book about Khutulun.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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