Martial Arts devotees will undoubtedly enjoy The Dragons of Antioch by first time novelist, Daniel Middleton, but I encourage other readers, like myself, who are less acquainted with traditional Chinese martial arts to give this book a try. The exciting action and character-driven humor woven throughout this tale of four young teens from North Carolina carried me through an engaging story, including some of the more technical and historical passages. The historical passages are strongest when told through flashback sequences where the reader experiences Chinese culture, first-hand, through the eyes and ears of the characters. I was even inspired by this novel to explore more about Eastern philosophies and have continued reading on this subject.
What I enjoyed most about this novel, however, was standing alongside the four likeable protagonists as they begin a transformational journey -- not only from ordinary kids in a sleepy town to skilled martial artists engaged in the ultimate battle, but also the timeless journey from the worlds of childhood to adulthood. Indeed, the overarching theme of this novel is one of transformation - sometimes interpreted literally through magical transfigurations and shifts in time and space, while other times realized through the relatable transformation the teen protagonists go through as they begin to define their own identities. The story arc of one of the boys in particular, Chandler, left me wanting more of the internal life of these teens, and I have hopes that the author will continue to explore the growth of these characters in future installments. The journey of the female protagonist, Amry, in particular, is one that I look forward to following because she is a rarity in young adult literature as a strong female character whose strength is defined in her own terms and not by her relationship to the male characters in the story. This is a novel I wish had been available years ago when I was a high school librarian because of its potential appeal to teenage boys as well as teenage girls longing for a genuinely strong and independent female role model.
I recommend The Dragons of Antioch and look forward to future installments!
(This review is based on a first printing with some typographical errors which, in no way, detracted from by enjoyment of the story. I'm confident such errors will be corrected for future printings.)