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I can't tell you what culture inspired this fantasy, (Vietnamese,Chinese?). The real joy of this book is that it is from the opposite side of the world from western traditions, making for a refreshing new slant on magic.
Every person has an animal spirit that shows up in their childhood, sort of like The Golden Compass. But the resemblance to that book ends there. (If you read Golden Compass after watching the movie, you will be very sad. The movie ended before the horrible ending inflicted by the author.)
Kai Zou's animal spirit is a pig, a smelly pig with a smart mouth. He is usually right, which annoys Kai Zou no end. There are lots of other spirit animals, a (dead) stone griffin, and there are dragons - ghost dragons, of the occidental type.
Kai Zou is a street lord, with a small gang of friends, each of whom have strengths and weaknesses. Kai Zou's mother owns a magic shop and teaches magic; Kai Zou has to help out, creating conflicts between his street life and home life.
In the previous book, Kai Zou gave the Princess her impossible wish. This book is the fall out from that wish. This book stands on it's own but it would be nice if the prequel was read by this same reader. I give the reader high marks for the accent, as well as the reading, which contributes to the oriental atmosphere.
And the food they eat sounds great. Wish the restaurants were in Tucson.
This book is on my list of best of 2012 (that's when I found it) along with "The Wizard of Dark Street", and all time favorite "Fly by Night".
Here's hoping for sequels or companion books.
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