Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien
A surprise for me last year was how much I enjoyed Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. I would never have picked up that book if it hadn’t been nominated for the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. It’s about a girl named Peasprout Chen who, along with her little brother Cricket, is sent from her rural province to her country’s capital city to attend an elite school for students who practice the art of wu liu, which is basically martial arts on ice skates.
When they arrive, Peasprout and Cricket face many of the same challenges that all fantasy readers know that poor rural kids face when sent to magically-influenced elite boarding schools. What makes this book different is the bizarre setting, the odd characters, and the quirky sense of humor.
Now, in Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, which has also been nominated for the Andre Norton Award, Peasprout and her brother, friends, and enemies are back for their second year of school and another life-changing adventure. (If you haven’t read Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, you should read it first.)
Two new students have arrived at Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. One is the boy who we learned about at the end of the first book (I’m avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t read it). The other is Yinmei, the beautiful great-great-granddaughter of the empress of Shin, Peasprout’s home province. The addition of these students causes some jealousy and Peasprout, lashing out, announces that Yinmei is probably a spy.
Things get scary when the empress of Shin (for good reason) accuses Peasprout of being a traitor and demands she be returned to Shin. Peasprout convinces Pearl not to send her back. When the empress threatens to invade Pearl, the academy prepares by transforming from an art school into a battle school. All of the students will be learning to fight. They must form battle bands and compete against each other.
The story of Peasprout Chen continues to be charming and delightful, though, on the surface, Peasprout herself is not. Peasprout is boastful, jealous, vindictive, and mean but, somehow, Henry Lien makes us love her anyway. In Battle of Champions, we learn more of her family’s history and she begins to mature just a bit.
At the end of Battle of Champions, Peasprout is given an unusual opportunity and I look forward to seeing what she does with it in future installments. I am also eager to learn more about the fascinating city of Pearl and the strange substance it’s made of.
I love Macmillan Audio’s editions of PEASPROUT CHEN. Nancy Wu’s narration is so entertaining. She really understands the character of Peasprout and she brings out Lien’s subtle and offbeat sense of humor. She gives a fabulous performance. I love the cover art, too.
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