Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan
Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan is a YA fantasy/steam-punk novel about a young woman who longs to be a legendary warrior and avenge her father’s murder. Fan is an established writer of YA literature, having penned the Jane Colt and Flynn Nightsider series, to name a few.
When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as a godsend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection—if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.
Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Page Street Publishing & Page Street Kids through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
This was an action-packed adventure story that was full of female-power moments. I really enjoyed Anlei’s character and what she represented: a woman who wants to be in charge of her own destiny, who wants the glory of victory over her enemies, and who has confidence in her own abilities. Yes, she is strong and powerful, but she also has flaws – she’s stubborn, she is often careless and borderline selfish in her desire to avenge her father’s death, causing her to lose sight of others. But she acknowledges these faults and grows from them. She shows the capacity to learn from her mistakes, and Fan’s choice to reveal Anlei’s vulnerabilities, makes her human and, therefore, more approachable. Anlei, though strong, has her limits, and, like anyone else, still needs help.
I love the journey this story takes you on. It’s at the same time a good vs. evil story, but also a quest story as well. Anlei and Tai seek to free Tai’s people from the clutches of Mowang, a deamon of Hell. Their relationship grows from their having to work together, and there’s a nice inter-play between her and Tai, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ability to learn from each other and grow to trust each other. I really enjoyed the growth of their relationship over the story.
One of my favorite things, though, was the fantasy world that Fan has created in this story. I love the Chinese influences that are threaded throughout, and the steam-punk elements that elevate this story from your typical fantasy fair. There’s magic and mystical beings, evil spirits. It’s just a feast of fantasy and mythos. I loved every minute of it.
Literary Value: 3/5
I think this was a decently written story. It had everything I would want in a YA fantasy novel: action, adventure, decent world-building. I really enjoyed Fan’s world-building in this story. It was different, interesting, and I could easily picture it as I was reading. I liked the mechanical elements, the steam punk additions, that I wasn’t expecting. I liked that melding of magic and science together. I think Fan did an excellent job of creating a believable world to contain these elements.
I loved the characters that Fan developed as well. I think both Anlei and Tai are really strong, well-built characters that have a lot of nuance. I liked Fan including that Anlei struggled with reading – I believe she probably has dyslexia – which I though was a nice insight into her character. There were lots of little things like this that Fan used to create whole, three-dimensional characters. I really enjoyed watching Anlei and Tai develop and learn from each other.
I also appreciated all the well-choreographed fight scenes in this novel. I think Fan did a fantastic job of configuring each of these fights and writing them in a believable way. I could easily picture what was happening as the characters moved about. It didn’t feel clunky or awkward, which is good, since this book has a lot of fight scenes.
Overall, it was a well-written book. I wasn’t blown away, but I wasn’t disappointed either. I think there were some moments that were a bit slow, the story took a little while to get going, but once it did, it really hit it’s stride and carried me to the end.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
I had a good time reading this book. I really loved the adventure of it, the quest, the fights, the triumph that the characters get to experience along the way. I also really enjoyed getting to know these characters. They were interesting, different, and felt really real to me. I also enjoyed the fight scenes, of which there were many. I felt really absorbed in what was going on and I cared about the outcomes. There was a lot of tension built, then rebuilt for many different moments in the book, which kept me on my toes and had me turning the pages.
If you enjoy action-packed fantasy books, this book will definitely satisfy. It kept me invested the whole way through and it had a satisfying ending.
Cover Art: 4/5
I am so happy that this cover doesn’t depict any people! So often in fantasy and sci-fi books, the publisher for some reason feels the need to depict characters on the cover. I don’t like that and I am happy to see no characters in sight on this cover. It’s also a really pretty cover – I love the Chinese-inspired artwork. The dragon is super cool and I appreciate this nod to the Chinese cultural influences that are seen throughout the story. You can also see some gear-work depicted which is really cool. I think it reflects the story well.
I also think the writing looks bold and eye-catching, and if I were to spot this book in a bookstore, I would definitely give it a look.
Overall Rating: 3.75/5 Dragons
This is a wild-ride, steam punk fantasy novel about a strong female warrior who does everything she can to protect her people and to avenge her father’s death. There’s adventure, well-written fight scenes, a little romance, and lots of magic. I especially enjoyed the Chinese cultural elements that Fan used not only to build this world, but to create the mythology of this story.
This is a gripping story, and I would definitely recommend it to fantasy lovers out there, especially those that like a bit of steam-punk thrown in. It’s fast-paced, there are highs and lows for our two main characters, and overall there’s just some really great storytelling.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thanks for reading this review. It means a lot to me that you stopped by to see what I thought about this book. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s talk about this book – have you read it? What did you think? Did you love it/hate it? I’d love to hear from you.