The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang
Released: May 2nd, 2017
Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together—one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.
When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.
The Emperor’s Riddle is an adventure tale of eleven year old Mia, as she tries to solve a series of riddles in Fuzhou, China, to seek an old Emperor’s treasure and help her search for her missing Aunt.
Personally, what I loved most was the way Zhang takes the reader on a tour of Fuzhou while the characters try to solve the riddles to the Emperor’s treasure. As I have never been to any of the places mentioned in the book, it was fascinating to get knowledge and visualize the historical places like Sanfang Qixiang, the White and Black Pagoda, the Ming Dynasty and the Cultural Revolution. Knowing that this was targeted towards younger readers, I liked the fact that she just touched the surface of the history and significant places (without getting into too much detail), thus creating a good blend of the story with the historical backdrop.
It was interesting to read how the main character Mia, who is a shy, sensitive and timid girl, goes about living the Grand adventure she always yearns. I also liked her relationship with her brother Jake and the way they fight and patch things together the book. The story itself is wonderfully written where Mia uses the help of the family in order to solve the riddles while getting close to them. The maps were an amusing touch added after Mia solved each of the clues.
Having said that, there are a few things that I felt could have been done better. Even though I could relate to Mia’s character, I personally didn’t like the way she treated her uncle throughout the book, especially since he was so nice to her. I wish Zhang had written a bit more to patch their relationship together. Secondly, while the riddles and the story was fun to read, it did seem unrealistic that Mia just happens to solve most of the clues in the first 3-4 days in a place she doesn’t even know well. The story felt rushed at times and I feel the author could have done a better job with the character development.
Overall, this was a delightful quick read that I would recommend to young readers.