Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword: Charming and quirky

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien young adult fantasy audiobook reviewsPeasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien young adult fantasy audiobook reviewsPeasprout Chen and her little brother Cricket have been chosen by the dowager empress to represent their province at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword in the famously beautiful city of Pearl. In exchange, the mayor of Pearl has sent two of his children to Shin, the poor rural area where Peasprout and Cricket grew up.

The Chen siblings were chosen because Peasprout is the best wu liu competitor in her entire province. She’s a celebrity there. But when Peasprout arrives at their new school, her classmates are not impressed. Right away, Peasprout and Cricket don’t fit in. They don’t have fashionable clothes or extra skates. Peasprout sets out to prove herself as the best in her class while she tries to protect her little brother, not nearly as accomplished in the martial art, from bullies.

Peasprout is a great skater, but she’s at a major disadvantage without the right gear and training. What makes things worse is that most of the students are prejudiced against her because she comes from a different region. When someone starts vandalizing some of the beautiful campus buildings, suspicion falls on Peasprout. And when there are rumors that the dowager empress may not be properly upholding her end of the trade agreement, Peasprout’s situation gets worse. They think she’s a spy! To clear her name, she needs to find and expose the real vandal.Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien young adult fantasy audiobook reviews

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (2018), the first book in Henry Lien’s PEASPROUT CHEN series, is a book I probably never would have picked up if it wasn’t a finalist for a Nebula Award this year (specifically, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy). This was not on my radar at all, but I’m glad I got a chance to read this charming and quirky story, especially in the lovely audio edition narrated by Nancy Wu (Macmillan Audio).

In some ways, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword is similar to other boarding school fantasies such as HARRY POTTER. Our protagonist is an outsider who struggles to fit into a school culture that is totally foreign and to prove that she belongs. Like Harry, Peasprout finds that classism, prejudice, and suspicion are more difficult to overcome than the actual curriculum.

What’s unique about PEASPROUT CHEN is the setting — a grand Asian-inspired city made of a strange secret substance called Pearl — and the odd sport called wu liu — a form of kung fu on ice skates (which can glide on the Pearl). Instead of magic, the competitor must learn to master the flow of chi. It’s hard to imagine children being trained in brutal combat ice skating, but if you can just go with it, it makes for some very exciting fight scenes and would absolutely make a great anime film. Many other little oddities (such as a bizarre banquet, a disastrous group project, some shocking animal cruelty, a skating wardrobe malfunction, and a hyperactive oracular monkey with a meat cleaver) are there to remind you that you are not reading HARRY POTTER. There is also (spoiler, so highlight if you want to read it): a genderqueer main character. (End Spoiler)

It’s easy to sympathize with Peasprout’s plight, but it’s not always easy to love her. She is arrogant, boastful, and proud. She always thinks she’s right. By the end of the novel, she begins to understand that she has some misconceptions. I like what Henry Lien did with her character. I like that he doesn’t just fix her at the end. Peasprout is young and she still has a long way to go. I’m interested to see what happens to her next in Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, especially after that wicked twist and cliffhanger!

Update: Thank you to author Henry Lien for sending a link to the Peasprout Chen theme song. Here he is with singer Idina Menzel:

Published in 2018. Welcome to Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, where the blades are sharp and the competition is fierce. Peasprout Chen dreams of becoming a legend of wu liu, the deadly and beautiful art of martial arts figure skating. As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking. Tensions rise when the dazzling pearl buildings of the Academy are vandalized and outsider Peasprout is blamed for the attacks by her rivals … and even some friends. Now, she must uncover the true vandal to ensure peace between Shin and Pearl – all while becoming a champion.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. This sounds wonderful, and the audiobook cover (and hardcopy, I’m guessing) is just great!

  2. April /

    Kat – this sounds intriguing but I have some hesitations based on your review. Is the monkey and meat cleaver a horror type aspect or something else? Also, the shocking animal cruelty – is it a one time thing that wasn’t done by the mains? Or is it something that is part of the narrative?

    Thanks!

    • Hi April, they are not horror elements, but just very minor incidents or passing descriptions that let us know this is a weird place. There were no animals in pain (that I recall) but the cruelty was a very brief description (maybe a couple of sentences) of how animals were thoughtlessly used to provide a luxurious and unnecessary service for humans.

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