It’s a good book — it’s a solid start to an innovative and interesting series. All the protagonists (the eponymous Thirteen Orphans) are mixed race — their ancestors fled the Land of Smoke and Sacrifice, a fairy tale China, to, eventually, America, where they intermingled with the various ethnicities already present. Pearl Bright, the fierce, elderly tiger, is Chinese and Hungarian Jewish. Brenda Morris, the heir apparent to the Rat, is German, Irish, and Chinese. Riprap is Black and Chinese. What’s cool is that this is mentioned, but not harped on. Also, no one’s skin is described using food metaphors, an extremely over used trope regarding the coloring of characters of color. The only quibble I had with this was the whiteness aspect. Brenda has a moment where she is really nervous about Riprap, because he’s a large black man, and she’s a white girl from South Carolina. She realizes she’s got some racist tendencies, and it’s through getting to know him that she lets that go. In my experience with white women that age (under 21), they generally don’t work out their racism that quickly or that easily. They’re much, much more annoying, and share their epiphanies with you like they’re going to get liberal cookies for not being racist. Because of this, I really wish Riprap got the opportunity to narrate. I think his take on Brenda and his perspective as one of the only visible minorities would really enrich the narrative.
Anyways, the original Thirteen Orphans fled the Lands, moved to America, and went into hiding. Some passed on the knowledge to use their magic to their heir apparents. Some didn’t. Regardless, they’re all being hunted. Someone from the Lands is stealing the ch’i of the various Orphans, leaving them a functioning shell of a self, with no memory of their mystical heritage.Brenda’s father, the Rat himself, is the most recent victim. In order to combat this threat, the Rat’s heir, the Dog (Riprap), Pearl (the Tiger), and the Rooster (Des Lee) most combine their resources, share their knowledge, and band together to fight off this attack from their ancestors’ old enemies.
I must admit, I mostly got this because I read the first 30 pages of the sequel. While the action in this establishes character, the plot itself doesn’t really got moving until about midway, when the Orphans actually encounter their enemies. Pearl is an amazing character, tho, and I really loved the way she is written. Also, I loved that she’s a warrior heroine, even though she’s older. Peep this:
Pearl Bright stood in the doorway, a long sword in one hand and an expression of uncompromising ferocity on her face. Up until this moment, Brenda had always thought “old” with a degree of pity. Now she saw age for the magnificent thing it could be: the power of knowledge, the strength of certainty.
How can you not be in love with her IN ADVANCE? She’s wearing a peony bathrobe, is holding a sword, and is all GET THE HECK OUT OF MY HOUSE, INTERLOPER! when one of the baddies sneaks in and threatens Brenda. <3