Wandering Warrior

Wandering Warrior

Author: Da Chen

Publication: Delacorte Press, 2003

Pages: 336

Overall Rating: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary: China has been occupied by the Mogoes, under the leadership of Emperor Ghengi.  Luka, also known as the holy boy, is his heir, but he’s also half-Chinese and prophecy has identified him as the future Emperor and hero of the people.  Ghengi wants him dead.  Luka is living in hiding, under the protection of a monk named Atami.  Atami has been teaching him meditation, philosophy and other esoteric subjects, but after Luka wanders away and gets in trouble one afternoon Atami decides to teach him kung fu.

Luka turns out to need his new skills sooner than expected.  A food riot and a traditional Tibetan funeral lead to the capture of Luka and Atami, who are separated from one another and sent to prison.  Luka is sentenced to death, but given a six month reprieve to work in the prison labor camp.  After a failed escape attempt he meets Gulan, Atami’s old master, who teaches him the art of Yin Gong.  The two escape together and make their way through a series of  harrowing adventures to the legendary Xi-Ling monastery, where Luka continues his kung fu training as he moves ever closer to his final confrontation with Ghengi and the terrible monster, Clob.

Age of Main Character: 12

What I Liked the Most: The real pleasures in this book come mostly in the small details, of which there are many.  First there are imaginative creatures like the snagons – giant half snake, half dragon beasts who live at Xi-Ling while repenting for their past sins – and Clob, the ultimate sea monster, with his monstrous offspring  known as the clobsters.

Then there are the insane workouts Luka has to do at Xi-Ling Monastary.  There are 1,000 steps leading to the temple and he has to go up and down them not once but 100 times – all before breakfast.  Not only that, he has to do it on all fours in order to learn how to move like a tiger.

There’s also a fascinating scene involving a sacred Tibetan burial where the person’s body is chopped up and fed to eagles who are supposed to carry their spirit to heaven.  There are tiny scorpions that enter your body through wounds, lay eggs in your blood, and eat you from the inside out.  There’s a wild ride through a tunnel in a boat drawn by giant turtles.

And finally there’s the punishment imposed for losing a race during one of Luka’s workouts – no stinky tofu for breakfast.  As Da Chen puts it, “Both Luka and Yi-Shen swallowed mightily upon hearing that announcement.  Men could live without meat, but not without stinking tofu – a fermented, rotten delicacy nurtured by squirming maggots.  Although it sounded nasty, its pungent flavor melted your heart and made your tongue sing.”

What I Liked the Least: While the small details made this a great story, there were also many details that either didn’t make logical sense or had something missing.  For example, at one point Luka digs a tunnel to escape from prison, but Da Chen never addresses what he did with all the dirt.  That’s a pretty crucial element when it comes to digging a tunnel to break out of prison.  In another example, Luka and two prison friends manage to become serious martial arts experts in a very short period of time.  In less than a year, they develop skills that should take a lifetime to master.

There are times when the point of view in the story changes abruptly mid-scene or even mid-paragraph.  The story is basically told from Luka’s perspective, but all of a sudden it will change to Gulan’s perspective before switching back again, which can be very confusing.

Finally, Ghengi is clearly the villain of the piece, but he plays a very small role – mostly vilified from a distance as Luka and others recount the terrible things he’s done.  During the final battle between Luka, Ghengi, and Clob, Luka briefly fights Ghengi, but then the action switches to Luka and Clob and Ghengi more or less seems to disappear.  He doesn’t die, he isn’t defeated, and we don’t really hear anything more about him.  That just didn’t make sense.  If Ghengi’s not dead or defeated than how could the story be over?

How Good was the Action?  It’s okay, but I felt like Da Chen lost a lot of opportunities to make it better, mostly by summarizing the action too much.  There were plenty of scenes that could have been more tense if he’d let us in on what Luka was thinking as it happened and employed more blow-by-blow detail.   For example, at one point Luka and Gulan escape through a dark, mossy tunnel filled with 1000’s of centipedes.  This could have been a terrifically dark, tense, and claustrophobic scene, but instead he summarized the whole thing in a couple of paragraphs.

For his fight scenes, Da Chen relies too heavily on Qi, magical weapons, and leaping vast distances.  There’s not enough old fashioned kicks and punches to give the scenes a real sense of danger or tension.  The fight with Clob gets the closest, but even it relied so much on Qi and magical daggers that it was hard to get into the action.

How Engaging was the Story? I never felt a strong drive to keep reading.  I finished the book, but I didn’t tear through it and there was never a moment when I felt like I really couldn’t put it down.  I think there were two reasons for this.  First – as I mentioned above – the action scenes lacked any real sense of tension.  Second, I never got that deeply into Luka’s character.  I was drawn in at a surface level, but never developed a real connection to him and never cared all that much whether he lived or died.

Overall Assessment: This was a decent enough story – a moderately entertaining introduction to the martial arts novel – but there was nothing particularly engaging about it and the action scenes lacked any real punch.  I was especially disappointed by the ending.  I kept waiting for Ghengi to return for a final showdown with Luka, and it never happened.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Some, but it wasn’t too graphic.  Even the scenes where Gulan pulls off his arm or where the dead body is being chopped up don’t involve any gore.

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