Dragon Keeper is the first book in the Dragon keeper series, published in 2003. It is followed by Garden of the Purple Dragon, and takes place after the events in Dragon Dawn. It is set in 141 B.C.E, in the Han dynasty.
The story begins with Ping, and orphan slave girl, working for a cruel man named Master Lan. She works by feeding the animals around the gardens. While she feels comfortable around most of the animals, there are two dragons down in a pit that she is wary of. While down there one day, she takes the food of the dragons for herself and her rat Hua. This results in the death of one of the people and they sream Through a strange turn of events, involving Ping treating the remaining dragon better, the emperor visiting with a dragon hunter named Diao, and she and the dragon escaping, Ping finds herself in the countryside of China, and on the way to a mysterious land called Ocean. Danzi, Ping, and the strange 'Dragon Stone' (which is really a dragon egg, a fact that Ping doesn't know) are on their way, but encounter Diao many times as he tries to kill Danzi and take the dragon stone. They finally reach the diao capital, Chang'an, and they meet up with an old friend of Danzi's, a herbalist named Wang Cao. Ping and Danzi are forced to leave early, however, because Ping spots Diao in the marketplace. While they were there, Ping overheard a conversation between Danzi and Wang Cao, in which Danzi insists that Ping is a Dragon Keeper. They soon encounter a village, and are about to stay overnight, when they see Diao again, and this time, he sees them. He captures they with the help of the villagers, and Danzi and Ping are put in a cage. Ping comes up with a clever plan of escape, and they are soon free. The dragon stone, however is left with Diao. At first Danzi is very upset, but he soon calms down and says, untruthfully, that it is okay that the stone is gone. They soon arrive at a dock and Ping buys passage on a boat. The name of the captain is Jiang Bing, and Ping likes her. They travel for a ways, but soon come to a town that Jiang Bing says she has to drop off some cargo. The town is Wucheng, and Ping knows thatrat slaughterers and sorcerers gather there. Ping says that they will go ashore for a time, and he reveals to Ping that he knows that the dragon stone is there. Danzi eventually find the stone, she has to steal it from a strange Necromancer. While they are making their escape, Ping and Ping realize that the boatwoman, Jiang Bing was working for the Necromancer the whole time. There is a long struggle, but Hua and Diao eventually overcome them, but Ping accidentally crashes into the emporer's boat. She is taken aboard with him, and she discovers that he is only a child. They travel back to the emporer's summer estate, a place called Ming Yang Lodge. Ping and the emporer soon become friends, and Ping finds out his real name, Liu Che. Ping stays for a long time, but Danzi insists that they must go to Ocean. One night, Ping discovers that Danzi and Wang Cao have escaped, and left her behind. She is very upset for a long time, but eventually decides to go with the Liu Che to Mount Tai Shan, where he will offer sacrifices to the gods. When they get there, Ping see Danzi and Wang Cao fighting with Diao. Ping comes to help, but Diao is killed. Ping then uses Qi power to knock Diao off of the mountain, killing him. Ping leaves the mountain on Danzis back, and they fly to Ocean. When they get there, The dragon stone hatches, and Ping realizes that it was an egg all along. The story ends with Danzi flying off to a mythical place called the Isle of Blest, leaving Ping to care for the the baby dragon, named Long Kai.
The story, while fictional, contains many references to China in the Han dynasty.
1. The emporer who Ping meets, named Liu Che, is based on the real emporer of the same name.
2. Wucheng is possibly based upon a real city in ancient China.
3. The things that Danzi is afraid of, iron, mulberry leaves, five coloured yarn, and centipedes accurately reflects how the ancient Chinese believed Dragons acted.
4. Ping learns to focus her Qi power, which bears much similarity to how the Chinese believed that Qi was.