Excellent historical fiction set in ancient China, with only a light hint of fantasy in the form of mythological elements. I love nearly all of GGK’s books. This may not be his best, but it’s definitely up in the top 50% of his works.
The story is not fast-moving (although it has action-filled moments), rather it builds slowly, like a tapestry carefully growing on a loom… weaving the tales of two people, and those they touch…
Ren Daiyan grows from an ambitious boy, to an outlaw, to a military man whose decisions may change the fates of empires.
Lin Shan is an exceptional woman, a poet whose work is a mild scandal due to her gender, but whose words reach the ears of the Emperor himself.
It’s a time when invading Mongols threaten the Empire; where bureaucracy has ascended over the martial way, and when an oblivious Emperor unwittingly sows misery and destruction in his pursuit of the creation of a beautiful garden. But with all its flaws, this civilization does have beauty and value to it.
The book is rather philosophical, and is told at a slight remove, as if a poet told a tale from history. But it’s also full of convincing, authentic characters, with plenty of intrigue, and builds to a powerful climax that was simultaneously unexpected but satisfying.