This past summer, I attended the Historical Novel Society conference and spoke on a panel about YA fiction. Dori Jones Yang was on the panel too, the author of Daughter of Xanadu. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since, and I’m very pleased to add it to my books read for the YA historical fiction challenge. (Check out the challenge hosted by Sab at YA Bliss.)
Set in the late 13th century, this is the story of Emmajin, a Mongol princess, the granddaughter of the Great Khan Khubilai. Emmajin has been raised on stories of the victories of the Mongol army and the advancement of the empire. She is not only beautiful but strong; she is as good (or better) at archery as her cousin, the Khan’s heir. While her younger sister and the other girls talk of nothing but marriages and court gossip, Emmajin is interested only in conquest and military affairs. More than anything, she wants to be a soldier in her grandfather’s army.
Marco Polo has come all the way from Venice with his father and uncle on a trade mission. He is a merchant, not a soldier. At first, Emmajin is unimpressed with him. But as they spend time together, she comes to respect his abilities even though they are definitely not the warlike virtues she values. His talk makes her begin to question her own beliefs. And although she has never been interested in men or marriage, she finds herself drawn to Marco in a way she never anticipated.
Daughter of Xanadu is set in a time period I love, but in a completely different locale from my usual fare. The book sets the stage marvelously, making an unfamiliar, exotic location into a rich, real world. Marco Polo and "Kublai Khan" are names that I recognize, of course, but have to admit I know very little about. This novel does a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life. Emmajin is an inspiring young woman and her adventures make for a fast-paced, enjoyable read.