A long time ago, the mystical and powerful Black Dragon presented the Chinese emperor with the gift of an ancient ball of jade. Two thousand years later, when a promise is broken and lives are threatened, it is left to the present-day descendents of the emperor to set things right.
B.L. Sauder’s debut novel brims with myth, adventure, and family secrets, but its intriguing premise is undermined by heavy-handed execution. The folkloric undertones, exciting settings, and historical backdrop are buried beneath passive characters and a problematic plot.
The characters in this story are little more than puppets. The heirs to Black Dragon’s legacy, two Chinese-Canadian boys and a teenage girl from Beijing, do not have the necessary independence, courage, and smarts to make their role in such a challenging adventure believable. You can feel the author pushing them through the narrative and attempting to give them a sense of depth through the use of clichés.
Plot holes are abundant, and each time the reader is forced to stumble, the story loses a little more credibility. To drive the narrative forward, Sauder frequently introduces events that stretch and bend reality. Ordinarily the use of such a device can be refreshing, but Sauder does not provide enough explanation (direct or indirect) to allow the reader to willingly suspend disbelief. Are we to believe that a naïve 16-year-old girl wearing a disguise could successfully pose as an immigration official in an international airport? Or that two young boys could command the Terracotta Army with a few simple words? In Sauder’s hands such events feel contrived and implausible.
Young readers may find elements of this adventure story entertaining but will doubtless feel less than satisfied by the novel as a whole.