The Five Ancestors, by Jeff Stone  » Books  »
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  • However, as the series continues, the plot becomes more convoluted, with secrets and betrayals, meeting the birth families of the kids, who were raised as orphans, and, of course, making new friends, and new enemies

    • by Olivia Ogden

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      At first, I attempted to review these books individually, but that was prohibitively difficult, since the series as a whole is pretty much one long narrative told from several points of view. So I opted instead to review the books that I’ve read so far as a unit. I’m reviewing in the middle of the series because I’ve always found it to be more fun to come into a series when the books are still being released than it is to come in after the fact. And I’m hoping that my review will convince people to read these books while they’re being published..

      This children’s book series revolves around the legendary destruction of the Shaolin temple at Songshan in the 1640s. In this series, though, two temples were destroyed — the destruction of the Songshan temple was the cover for the destruction of another, secret, temple, known as Cangzhen (pronounced, more or less, “tsang” (with a rising tone) “jen” (with a level tone)), literally, “hidden truth.”

      The story follows fortunes of the survivors of Cangzhen, six children who’ve each mastered one of the animal forms

      of Kung Fu. The eldest, Ying, a master of eagle-style kung fu, is 16. The next youngest, Long, a master of dragon-style kung fu, is 13, They are followed by three 12-year-olds — Hok (crane-style), Fu (tiger-style), and She (snake-style). The youngest, Malao, is 11 and is master of monkey-style kung fu.

      Before the story begins, Ying left Cangzhen because the Grandmaster of the temple had sent him and his best friend, Luk (deer) on a mission and Luk was killed. Ying blames the Grandmaster for the death of Luk. Ying, whose family practiced dragon-style kung fu, also has long been angry with the Grandmaster for teaching him eagle-style instead of dragon-style.

      When we meet Ying, he is working for the emperor and he has had his face modified to resemble a dragon’s. Oh, and he’s leading the raid that destroys Cangzhen.

      The other five survivors flee, but not until after the Grandmaster tells them that they have to redeem Ying, rather than kill him.

      The plot centers on a set of scrolls that are said to teach the highest secrets of dragon-style kung fu (and,

      • no, it doesn’t turn out to be the plot of Kung Fu Panda all over again ). However, as the series continues, the plot becomes more convoluted, with secrets and betrayals, meeting the birth families of the kids, who were raised as orphans, and, of course, making new friends, and new enemies. It’s very hard to summarize in only a few hundred words, and as a wiser person than I am once noted:

        The ending of a story is inextricably tied up with the rest of it. It flows from what precedes it, but it also shapes and reshapes everything that precedes it. The ending of a story can tell us what the story means — it can give meaning to all that precedes it.*

        So I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to tell you what this series is about until I’ve read the final book, which, since they seem to be coming out one book per year, should be out in about 2011.

        My only real quibble about this series is the use of Chinese. Probably not something most other readers will notice, but I’ve been

        studying Mandarin on my own since late 2006, so it stuck out to me.

        In an author’s note, Stone says that almost all of the characters in the series are speaking Mandarin, so it would follow that the Mandarin words would be given in hanyu pinyin. And sometimes they are (they call guns “quiang,” which is the hanyu pinyin spelling). But sometimes they aren’t. The name of one of the characters is spelled in a good phonetic way for English speakers — “PawPaw,” but hanyu pinyin doesn’t have an “aw” spelling. It should, in fact, be spelled “Popo.”

        Also, several times, the characters and/or the narrator say that the Cangzhen kids are named in Cantonese, and yet two characters’ names, Ying and Long, are Mandarin. The Cantonese equivalents are Jing and Lung, respectively.**

        But, overall, these are just minor annoyances that most readers will neither know nor care about.

        I’ve been buying all of these books in paperback, and the sixth book, Mouse, is only out in hardcover at this point. I have another year or so before it comes out in paperback, and believe me, I’m waiting impatiently.



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    The review was published as it's written by reviewer in April, 2009. The reviewer certified that no compensation was received from the reviewed item producer, trademark owner or any other institution, related with the item reviewed. The site is not responsible for the mistakes made. 171604668620230/k2311a0416/4.16.09
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