Daughter of Xanadu

by Dori Jones Yang

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang At almost sixteen, Emmajin, the heroine of Daughter of Xanadu, is "the eldest granddaughter of the powerful emperor Khubilai Khan," ruler of the Mongol Empire. As the novel opens, a victorious Mongol army is expected to return at any moment. Emmajin can hardly contain her excitement. Her great ambition is to become a soldier. "Even though I was a girl, I had built up my skills at all three Mongolian 'manly arts': horseracing, archery, and even wrestling, the one sport reserved for men only." Warfare, too, is usually reserved for men, but the Khan could give Emmajin permission to become a soldier, and she plans to ask him.

When the Khan gives Emmajin a special mission, she is eager to please him. Two Venetian merchants have returned to the court along with twenty-one-year-old Marco Polo. The Khan wants Emmajin to talk with Marco and learn as much as she can about Venice's military weaknesses. At first, she finds the task uncomfortable. Marco's reddish beard, strange blue eyes and unfamiliarity with Mongol customs make him seem unattractive. Soon, though, his stories about European courtly love intrigue her, and she begins to enjoy his gentle, respectful touch. This is less a romance, though, than the story of Emmajin's discovery that a warrior's life is not the glorious adventure she imagined it.

Daughter of Xanadu vividly portrays the exotic customs of Khubilai Khan's court. Readers intrigued by thirteenth-century China and its Mongol rulers will likely enjoy the novel's unusual perspective on Marco Polo through the eyes of a Mongol princess. Readers looking for high suspense and a fast-moving plot may grow impatient with its thoughtful pacing. (2011; 336 pages, including a Foreword about the history behind the story, and a Glossary of foreign words. Recommended for younger teens.)

More about Daughter of Xanadu at Powell's Books or Amazon.com

Other YA novels set in Mongolia and China:

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson (1998), about a thirteenth-century Mongolian girl with a lame foot who longs to ride horses. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean (2002), about a twelve-year-old boy in thirteenth-century China who must learn to ride kites even though his father died of fright while riding one. More info

Lady of Ch'iao Kuo: Warrior of the South by Laurence Yep (2001), about a fifteen-year-old princess in sixth-century China who acts as a go-between for her people in the south and nearby colonists from the north. More info

Nonfiction about the Mongols and Marco Polo:

Empire of the Mongols by Michael Burgan (2005), a history of the Mongol Empire for teen readers. More info

Marco Polo and the Realm of Kublai Khan by Tim McNeese (2005), for preteens and younger teens. More info

Marco Polo's Journey to China by Diana Childress (2007), for preteens and younger teens. More info


Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty (1215-1368) at the Facts and Details website

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