Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dragon's Pupils - The Sword Guest

Dragon's Pupils - The Sword Guest by Martin Chu Shui
ISBN: 978-1921578472
300 Pages

Liz is a half Australian and half Chinese girl growing up in Australia. her primary focus in life is environmental issues, particularly watching her friend’s handsome brother, who is an environmental activist. When, on the eve of her fourteenth birthday, a catastrophic accident sets thousands of ancient monsters loose, Liz's world changes forever. Suddenly Liz finds herself wishing she had paid more attention to her father's numerous ancient Chinese stories, as she finds that she must learn many new skills and call on all of her Chinese heritage to prevent the monsters from destroying Earth. Aided by her twin brother Henry and her best friend Sue, Liz sets out to discover why the monsters exist and how to stop them. Can she learn enough about a world she has ignored to stop the monsters in time?

My Thoughts:

I want to start off by saying this: The Sword Guest is an exciting and original story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it once I got into it.

The narration in The Sword Guest is abundant with cultural lore. I love seeing the various ancient Chinese stories that bring forth images of the Great Wall and days long gone. There is plenty of action to keep you entertained as well. The battle scenes are descriptive without going so far as to be overbearing. The varieties of monsters and villains and the interactions with them are interesting. I found myself surprised when vampires came into the story, but liked the way that they were written. It was a refreshing change to the more human vampires portrayed in so many novels today.  

The characters are well all developed, each having their own desires and dreams. Most importantly, they were likable. Focusing on the main three characters Liz, Henry, and Sue - I found myself at moments questioning the believability of their actions. Not their "super hero" actions - this is a book after all - but rather their everyday, "normal" actions. There was something about the way these fourteen year old children were running around, sometimes without parental consent, at potentially dangerous environmental rallies and protests, that irked at me a little. Even when they asked for consent, it was no big deal, like it was an every day occurrence. I loved that they were impassioned about their cause, but it still felt a little too farfetched. However, saying this, I have never been to Australia and I do not know the cultural differences. Children are raised differently across the world, and it is very possible that this is what the writer experienced growing up in Australia.

This book was written to target an adult market or a teen / young adult market, and it will be much better received in the youth department. The action and story is there, but many adults may find it hard to relate to heroes in their early teens. 

There was one notable thing that confused me while reading this story - the use of parentheses. In most books, a reader will come across a phrase or word that they do not understand, and they will have to look it up. There are several words in The Sword Guest that may have that effect on readers. Yet, I noticed on some of the simpler ones, there is an explanation within the writing, in parentheses. To me, this is seen as an editorial note, and it is distracting because it pulls you out of the story. As I read, the use of parentheses cropped up a few times, either defining a phrase or giving a background explanation of something occurring. It just seemed to me like there had to be a better way to put that information in there that would not bring the reader so abruptly out of the narration.

Aside from the parentheses, the biggest issue I had with The Sword Guest was the number of spelling and grammar errors - the first one as early on as two pages into the story. I came to discover that there were several such errors throughout the book. Now, I don't see this as all the fault of the writer. Writing a book is a long and arduous process, and a writer needs to have a good support system of editors and proofreaders behind them. This book was in need of a little more editing before publication. With a bit of polish, it would be perfect.

A while back, I was contacted by the writer and given a free copy of The Sword Guest in exchange for a fair and honest review. To be honest, when I was approached to review the book, I agreed knowing very little about it. I don't even recall if I read the synopsis first. I made a claim that I would review anything, and I planned to stick to it. I am really glad that I got to read this book though, because it had all of the elements of a good book - interesting characters, good background and lots of lore, a few surprises, and plenty of momentum. I am definitely looking forward to more from this writer.

Parent's Guide:
The Sword Guest is an ideal fantasy novel for young readers. The writing is not too difficult, but also not so simplistic that it gets boring. It has plenty of things to keep them entertained, as well as reminders to be environmentally conscious. I would highly recommend this book to preteens and teens - particularly those who enjoyed novels like those in the Goosebumps series. It does not use foul language, however,  there are a number of violent encounters, some of which are graphic. I would advise parental discretion based on the age of the child and how easily they are affected by visual imagery.

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