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Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Daughter of Xanadu (2011)

by Dori Jones Yang

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Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang is the fictional story of Emmajin, a granddaughter of Khubilai Khan. She was raised with her male cousins and allowed to partake in activities such as archery, horse-back riding, racing and wrestling. She had decided that she did not wish to marry and would rather be trained to serve the Khan in his army. All she had to do was convince her grandfather of this.

At first her grandfather was not receptive to her wishes, but did decide to use her as a spy, assigning her the youngest of the Polo’s, a family of merchants from the far city of Venice. Marco Polo was a young man of nineteen and when the two young people starting spending time together at the Khan’s summer palace of Xanadu, they formed both a friendship and a bond. But Emmajin did not forget her mission and her information was so well received that she was allowed to join a military expedition to the far south as a soldier. She was there when the King of Burma invaded and took part in the bloody battle to overcome the invaders. This battle showed her that she really didn’t have the stomach to be a soldier but she also did not want to settle into a woman’s traditional role so she had to once again convince her grandfather to allow her to become an emissary and travel to far lands for him.

This is a YA historical novel that was interesting, fully researched and well written. There is a sequel about Emmajin’s travels to Christendom with Marco Polo and I am looking forward to continuing on with this story. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Apr 19, 2016 |
If I wanted to categorize Daughter of Xanadu somehow, I think I would file it under “epic.” At least, epic in scope. The historical details are to the tee, with long descriptions of setting and relationships within the Kahn’s empire. There are numerous story lines weaving in and out, with numerous characters interacting with each other.

The main issue I had with it, though, was that I wanted it to be a bit more ambitious, or a bit less ambitious. I wouldn’t care either way, but I wanted either more of a big, huge storyline, or a more streamlined one.

I also found the character of Marco Polo…rather one-dimensional up until the very, very end. Which was a disappointment.

Other than those two things, I found Daughter of Xanadu to be lush in details (including the epic battle in the middle!), especially since this was an era and setting in history I have only remedial knowledge about. Anytime the Khan was on the page was made of win. Seriously. And I thought Emmajin’s inner-struggle with who she was and what she wanted to do within the strict rules governing her life was spot on. Really, a good, historical read. ( )
  leftik | Apr 3, 2013 |
Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang is a historical fiction young adult book that has been well researched. Even though the main character, Emmajin is fictional the place, Xanadu did exist.

Emmajin was inspired by the Chinese legendary female warrior Mulan. The author made her a granddaughter of the Kublai Khan. She was allowed to learn archery, horse riding and loved to be outdoors. She aspired to be a great warrior and bring honor on her family.
By the time that Marco Polo arrived, there had already been many changes to the traditional life of the Mongols. Changes in their housing, food and some of their traditions had already taken place.

The author's characterization of Marco Polo makes me want to learn more about him. He seems to be a learner and a peacemaker. The culture and history of Venice where he came from was vastly different.

The author cleverly teaches about the contrasting cultures by a semi romance between Emmajin and Marco Polo. Emmajin is perplexed by her feelings for Marco Polo, on one hand she was attracted by him physically and by his strangeness but on the other hand so knew it would never work.

I would recommend this book highly for young adults interested in Chinese history. There is another book by the author solely about Marco Polo. ( )
  Carolee888 | Sep 26, 2012 |
"Can you imagine, a mere girl fighting on the battlefield?"

The role of females in combat is a debate as timeless as war itself, and one that remains divisive and unresolved to this century. While present-day arguments for and against allowing women in the military revolve around psychological and biological issues, back in olden times, one needed only cite "tradition" and "familial roles" to silence the detractors.

The teenaged heroine of Dori Jones Yang's new 13th-century historical fiction novel, Daughter of Xanadu, is one such detractor, albeit immutable. Often imagining herself on the battlefield, "the son my father never had," Emmajin Beki, the granddaughter of Mongolian king Khubilai Khan, learned to ride a horse before she could walk and can outshoot all her cousins in archery. She confidently and outspokenly aspires to emulate her female ancestors who assisted Chinggis Khan in conquering Asia ("the blood of all these earlier strong women flowed in my veins").

Unfortunately for this princess, "the days of strong women had ended once luxurious court life had begun." The Mongols, fattened, lazy and resting on their laurels, now prefer to tell stories of battles-past over lavish "orgies of excess" rather than engage in new wars, much to Emmajin's restless discontent. When she makes known her desire to "become a legend" like real-life women warriors Aiyurug Khutulun and Hua Mulan of China, the great Khan placates her by sending her on a secret mission to spy on a family of foreign merchants currently visiting the Mongol court.

The merchants' young son turns out to be one Marco Polo, the now-legendary Venetian journeyer credited for introducing Asian culture to the west. To Emmajin, however, he is just another "colored-eye man," a court curiosity from Christendom whose gallantry and romantic gestures are as ridiculous to the manly Mongolians as his facial hair ("his beard was so thick I could imagine food sticking in it").

Try as she might, however, Emmajin, caught in the peak of puberty, is unable to resist Marco's western charm, and quickly finds herself enamored by his worldly vision ("I had learned to see the world through Marco's eyes") as well as his pelt. "What would the hair on his arm feel like?" she often fantasized about at night. But she was a Mongolian first, and reluctantly sacrifices her blossoming relationship with the foreigner to complete her spy mission ("He was not a friend but a source of information.").

Authoress Dori Jones Yang is a Caucasian American, yet she is no stranger to writing from the perspective of conflicted adolescent Chinese girls, as evinced in her previous, award-winning novel, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang. In Daughter of Xanadu, she hones in even deeper into the physiological confusion and emotional conflictions that make youth such a joy, turning Emmajin into such a hormonal wreck that this male reviewer often found himself gritting his teeth in frustration at such contradictive revelations as, "if he had pursued me, I would have rebuffed him. By holding himself aloof, he challenged me to win back his esteem."

Daughter of Xanadu is not all teenage angst. As our protagonist matures, so does the content of the story. Emmajin eventually persuades Khubilai Khan to allow her to train for war against the Burmese at the Battle of Vochan (present-day Yunnan province), where the embarrassment of getting her period in front of the all-male troops is a bloody omen for what's to come. Upon seeing her cousin slain, innocent Emmajin is transformed into a "mindless killer." Bloodlust unleashed, the young princess swings her sword indiscriminately ("the hatred pounded in my ears...killing him felt good"), resulting in hundreds of men dead by her hand alone. One can only imagine all the Mulan vs. Emmajin fanfiction that this novel will inspire!

By story's conclusion, Messer Polo, who witnessed and wrote about the Mongols' real-life battle against the Burmese in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, has elevated "Emmajin the Brave" into the living legend she wanted to be, though she now regrets it. "These men needed a hero, but I no longer needed to be one." She resigns her sword and rank, and departs with Polo back to Europe as the Khan's emissary of peace, leaving the literary door wide open for a sequel.

Dori Jones Yang, who also penned the best-selling Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, is a skilled historian. In researching Daughter of Xanadu, Yang, fluent in Putonghua, traveled all the way to the ruins of Xanadu in remote Inner Mongolia, which this itinerant backpacker can personally attest is no easy journey. The short chapters and brief sentences, edited with razor precision for a younger audience, along with a helpful glossary for ESL students, make reading Daughter of Xanadu a breeze, though adults will admittedly want to beg this book back afterwards from their tweens.


Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People ( )
  chinaphotographer | Nov 6, 2011 |
Set in 13th-century China, newcomer Dori Jones Yang paints a fascinating, vivid portrait of the period. Though, of course, for the purposes of the novel's intended age group, she does have to glaze over a few period-specific things. However, Yang does an exquisite job of transporting the reader back to unique setting when the world was completely different, and the role of women was completely different in society

Princess Emmajin is the granddaughter of the great Khan of Khans, emperor of the Mongols. A strong-willed, ambitious young woman, Emmajin dreams of joining the army and achieving glory in battle on behalf of Mongol nation. Such an ambition is not granted to Mongolan women, especially ones of royal birth. Just when Emmajin starts to make some headway, she meets the Westerner Marco Polo, who has come to trade with the East. Emmajin befriends Marco to spy on him on behalf of the Khan, but she finds herself falling in love with him.

An exciting adventure, Daughter of Xanadu is a fast-paced, page-turning action-packed novel complete with dashes of fantasy and romance. A quick read, Yang has a well-practiced, deliberate writing style that hits all the right notes between plot, characterization, action and history. But most importantly, Emmajin is a great, cheer-worthy character that readers can easily relate to and love. Though I knew what was going to happen to her virtually the entire novel, I still wanted to see what wild adventures she had in the meantime.

A perfect read for younger teens, Daughter of Xanadu is recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce. ( )
  BookAddictDiary | Mar 20, 2011 |
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The fierce Mongol army was riding straight at us.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385739230, Hardcover)

Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:44 -0400)

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Emmajin, the sixteen-year-old eldest granddaughter of Khublai Khan, becomes a warrior and falls in love with explorer Marco Polo in thirteenth-century China.

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