Tom Dougherty Associates/Tor: NY, 2009.
I was happy to see Laurence Yep's new book, since I haven't seen anything of his in a while. I read most of his books in the years before writing reviews, so I need to work on reviews for his books. I have always liked his style, ranging from his highly historical Newbery honor books Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate to his young readers Later, Gator and Skunk Scout and his powerful Hiroshima.
City of Fire is different from anything else I've read by Yep. An alternate history/fantasy story that gives the impression that it could have existed within a subset of the San Francisco community of 1941. The use of local history and myth (for San Francisco and Hawaii) adds realism and encourages readers to explore further the events and culture. In fact, there are research activities and study questions supplied, such as comparisons of what is history or created by the author.
City of Fire is the first of a trilogy, so much of it is setting up the series. A group of unlikely characters join together to try to stop a murderous thief. Young Scirye, a descendant of the ancient Kushan Empire avenging her sisters death. Kles, her lap griffin and trusted companion. Leech, an orphan boy with undiscovered powers. His friend Koko, protective of Leech, since he is more adept at life on the streets. Bayang, a dragon in disguise, sent to assassinate one foe but finding another more appropriate. Their common enemy is Mr. Roland whose goal to obtain the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yi would give him control of the universe. There is as much conflict among their gang as with the culprits. Their pursuit takes them to a magically created Hawaiian island, where they join forces with Pele, the volcano goddess.
Questions of honor and identity make the story more than just another fantasy quest. For ex., Bayang's change of course as she becomes involved with her prey, and Leech's self-analysis after learning who he is (or was). I enjoyed the blurring of fantasy and history. The use of a historical man-made island to compare with the one magically created. The flying carpet may be an old idea, but it was used to advantage. Bayang and Pele both are great characters, showing a different face to humanity. Both choose a weak facade (with plenty of spirit) as disguise. Scirye shows promise as well. I'll definitely be watching for the next installment, City of Ice.
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