My Summary: Twelve-year-old Kevin couldn’t care less about centuries-old history or his Korean heritage. They’re boring and irrelevant to him. But then the mysterious Archer appears in his bedroom. Kevin soon learns that Archer is a legendary king from Korean history who has mistakenly traveled to 1999 from the First Century B.C. Now, Kevin must rely on his wits, his math skills, the Chinese zodiac, and some Korean history research to deliver Archer back to his time before it’s too late.
Korea has an extremely long and rich history and folklore, so it’s a shame that not many authors have written fantasy based on Korean culture because it tends to get eclipsed by Chinese and Japanese cultures, which are more familiar to most people. This is the only book I know of besides the three in Ellen Oh’s Prophecy Series that is an #ownvoices Korean fantasy.
Rarity aside, I really enjoyed the book for itself. The math puzzles, the references to the zodiac, the incorporation of Korean myths, and the research that Kevin did at the museum made it fun for me as a puzzle-lover, a mythology nerd, and a frequent patron of museums/zoos/etc. (I’m That Person who reads everything on the exhibits until I realize there’s not enough time for me to get through everything if I do.)
Not surprisingly, the theme of the book centered on a sense of appreciation for one’s history and culture. I was lucky in that I grew up with parents who instilled in me pride in my heritage, and I was privileged to be able to visit Taiwan frequently (until recent years) so that I never really lost that connection to my ancestral homeland. Yet even though my experiences are different from Kevin’s in many ways, that doesn’t mean I can’t empathize, having grown up as second generation kid with the pressure to assimilate and been forced to learn white people’s history in school, often with less-than-engaging methods.
Kevin is lucky in that he lives in a fictional world, and he gets to learn through epic adventures that actively incorporate knowledge of history and myth into them. What I wouldn’t give to be able to meet legendary figures in the flesh! Even with a pre-existing interest in Korean culture, reading this book piqued my interest even more. It only really mentions one historical/legendary figure from one time period in any detail, which is barely scraping the surface of the thousands of years of Korean history and gives you an idea of how much more there is to learn and explore. It’s like an appetizer for a twelve-course meal.
Another reason I enjoyed the book is that I really love archery as a sport/art and actually joined my university’s archery club for a semester but was forced to drop it because I got too busy to keep up. Archery may not be as dynamic as, say, team sports, but it’s so cool to me (also probably appeals to my sense of laziness, oops). So this book was practically made for me and my interests.
Yet another thing that made the book a good read was the humor. The culture clash Archer experiences as a time-traveler from the distant past make for peak comedy. I literally busted out laughing a few times. But maybe that’s just me?
Lastly, this book actually got the language stuff mostly right, re: time travel. Archer was born in China in 55 B.C. and speaks Chinese, but a very, very old variant that’s not intelligible to modern-day speakers of Chinese languages, and the book actually points out that fact. Whatever proto-Korean language Archer speaks would likewise be incomprehensible to modern-day Korean-speakers, as a large percentage of modern Korean vocabulary is Sino-Korean and wasn’t borrowed into the language until around the Tang Dynasty and later, well after Archer’s time. Though the book doesn’t mention this particular detail, it does have an in-narrative explanation for why Kevin and Archer can understand one another despite their native languages being completely different. So my inner linguistics nerd is fairly satisfied.
Recommendation: If you have little to no knowledge of Korean history/culture, this is a very accessible book that introduces you to it in an engaging fashion.