From School Library Journal
Grade 5–7—During the second century, the Emperor sends the Tiger Battalion to northwestern China to repair a section of the Great Wall. Upon its arrival, the Commander proposes an archery contest. His son Ren thinks victory will prove his worth to his father. Hu, a local peasant boy, wants to win to save his family from starvation. As they train, the two boys form an unlikely friendship. When the Commander finds barbarian spies across the wall, he cancels the contest. The story turns into a fast-paced adventure as he sends Ren away for safety and Hu is wrongly arrested for stealing grain from the meager supply. It's up to Ren to unmask corrupt officials, clear his friend's name and save the village—and all of China—from invasion. Told in alternating chapters, the narrative follows Ren and Hu as their story lines converge, split, and rejoin. Although historically well grounded, the characters' outlook and actions are modern and Western. Still, the mystery, adventure, and excitement of the final battle will attract readers, even those who do not usually enjoy historical fiction.—Jennifer Rothschild, Prince George's County Memorial Library System, Oxon Hill, MD
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Lloyd's first novel takes place in ancient China, a setting perhaps more familiar in fantasy than historical fiction. In the late Han Dynasty, two boys form an uneasy friendship in a small village just inside the Great Wall. Zheng Ren, the sheltered son of a powerful commander, arrives with a group of soldiers tasked to repair a breach in the wall, and soon meets Li Hu, a fiesty boy from a poor peasant family. The threat of starvation and rumblings of a barbarian invasion keep people on edge throughout the winter, and Ren and Hu find themselves with critical roles to play in both circumstances. Some light but intriguing political machinations and the ever-present threat of barbarian conflict anchor the story, but more memorable are the raw familial chords struck between the two sets of fathers and sons. Both boys only want to prove their worth and do so in drastically different ways. Lloyd's patient blend of thoughtfulness and excitement makes for a rousing historical read of an underexplored era. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman
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