I think this is between 3 and 3 1/ stars for me.
The story takes place mostly in Australia - although we do get to see a bit of China as well and it involves primarily three fourteen-year-old kids, twins Liz and Henry and their friend Sue and of course their families.
Out of the three, Liz seems to be the most driven, especially when it comes to the environment and protecting it and of course Tai Chi. Early on in the book, we find out that all three of them are "activists" despite their young age and take part in protests seeking to prevent a mining process to an Australian Landmark, Wave Rock.
What they don't know though, is that Wave Rock is not just a landmark, it's what kept the "monsters away" and now there's a "hole" through which they can escape their prison.
When her father gives Liz a special calligraphy pen for her birthday, she feels there's something special about it, what exactly she can't tell, but when strange things start happening around Perth and weird people with backpacks and torches appear with more than hostile intentions and even vampire characteristics, Liz realizes that it's her destiny set in motion.
The three kids are attacked by those strangers and it's their Tai Chi instructor that rescues them, manifesting amazing skills in battle and magic.
She is injured, however, but before she "ascends", she manages to magically give them fighting experience and knowledge they need for the upcoming war. She also gives Henry and Sue powerful magical weapons, a sword and magical rings.
Through their lessons with Li Ping, their extraordinary female Tai Chi instructor, all three have already mastered not only fighting techniques but also breathing and meditation routines that significantly enhance their strength, agility and speed beyond their fourteen years or even their human nature.
Gradually, they find out that the strange men are intruders from USB (Universe of Supreme Beings) with superior technology and powers and the only thing that can help them destroy them is Tai Chi and the Qi power within them, which they can only harness and utilize because they get help along the way.
Sound complicated? It is, but in a good way.
The novel is packed with action. It's page after page of movement and something new and interesting.
The plot flows swiftly and the characters are well defined and believable. Liz's character and Henry's is consistent throughout,with Liz being impulsive, yet heroic and strong-willed and Henry being level-minded and strong.
It is Sue's character that comes full circle by the end of the book though. She starts of how you'd imagine a 14-year-old girl, somewhat shallow (she wants to be a fashion model) and easily scared, but loyal to her friends and by the end of the books, she takes her friendships to the next level, by actually putting her life on the line to save her friends, even if it could cost her her life's dream too.
The novel is filled with Chinese proverbs and stories and one is more interesting than the other - if somewhat cryptic and vague - it's gradually within the book that we understand what each one means and what its usefulness is in the battle against the monsters.
The description of the battles and the fight sequences is detailed and very exciting and these alone really get you into the story.
I really enjoyed the scenes with the Monster King and the challenges the kids had to complete in order to be released, got a bit of a "Doomsday" vibe out of it.
What I enjoyed the most is that it seems that the book seems to target more of a younger reading group, but in it there are useful and meaningful life messages having to do with the importance of friendship, patience, family, love and many other things.
On the other hand, I have to admit that sometimes the ending of the fight and the resolution of some scenes seemed a bit too easy (i.e. the monsters ending a fight) and Liz, Henry and Sue had a lot more freedom than most fourteen-year-olds usually have. They are out of the house a lot and I mean a lot and we don't have scenes of their parents looking for them or questioning them about it. Also, when Liz and Henry's father ends up in the hospital, they don't pay a lot of attention to him, they are away all the time and their mother is nowhere to be found (she isn't depicted to cook for them or ask where they are). Also, at some point Liz talks to Sue's mother on first-name basis which I thought was unusual for a 14-year-old towards an adult, but maybe it's something usual in Australia. (it's not very usual in Greece, though, so maybe that's why it seemed weird to me).
Overall, though, it is a very entertaining book, one will truly enjoy and have fun with, not only because of the exciting battles and Tai Chi techniques, but also for the real-life lessons and the wonderful insight into the Chinese culture.
* Offered by the author for an honest review.
(review of free book)