The Secrets of Jin-shei [NOOK Book]

Overview

The epic story of a sisterhood where blood relations are nothing compared to the unbreakable bond of the secret sisters -- the bond of Jin-Shei.

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The Secrets of Jin-shei

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Overview

The epic story of a sisterhood where blood relations are nothing compared to the unbreakable bond of the secret sisters -- the bond of Jin-Shei.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Set in a mythical ancient Chinese kingdom, this evocative novel is sure to be popular with fans of Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and even Marion Zimmer Bradley. In her first U.S. publication, Alexander (whose previous books were published in Britain and New Zealand) offers a perfect genre-buster: romance, political intrigue, adventure, horror, magic, suspense-and enough anthropological detail to create a believable alternate history. Bound by the inviolable loyalty pledge of jin-shei, eight women, all vastly different and deftly portrayed, move together in a complicated play for power, love, and acceptance. There is dangerous, self-centered Empress Liudan, who begins a quest for immortality; poet Tai, who first commits her heart to a dying princess; fierce warrior Xaforn; master healer Yuet; wise counselor Nhia; scholar Khaelin, who learns alchemy to her own peril; Tammary, a gypsy with a secret lineage; and Qiaan, whose very existence is a danger to them all. Their fabulous world comes alive in their stories: through jin-ashu, the secret women's language; in Lihui, the evil Ninth Sage who steals souls to strengthen his own power yet inspires love; and in the intricate secrets of a dynasty that will prosper or fall by the will of the gods and of its angry empress. Highly recommended.-Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a mythical Chinese kingdom, members of an ancient sisterhood fight, die, and practice sorcery for one another as they struggle to survive. In the semifeminist kingdom of Syai, young girls, whether heirs to the throne or daughters of seamstresses, vow eternal loyalty to those of their peers whom they find compatible. The oath of jin-shei that they take imposes numerous obligations and transcends all other loyalties. Like a gang of blood brothers, these superheroines try to save not only their sisters but the empire itself in a richly imagined but rather wooden narrative that begins and ends with Tai, the daughter of an accomplished seamstress. While visiting the palace with her mother, Tai becomes the sister of the teenager Little Empress Antian, heir to the throne. Tai's loyalty is soon tested, however, when the Summer Palace is destroyed by earthquake and all the Imperial family are killed except Liudan, third in line of succession. When the dying Antian asks Tai to look after her sister Liudan, Tai agrees and is soon sister to the new Empress. This relationship will make her life and those of her six other sisters increasingly difficult and dangerous. In separate chapters, those other six are introduced: Xaforn, an orphan raised by the Imperial Guard to be a soldier; crippled Nhia, known for her wisdom; Qiaan, who has a strong social conscience and a secret in her past; Khailin, an alchemist; Tamary, who is descended from royalty and gypsies; and Yuet , a healer. As Liudan consolidates her imperial power, her siblings become increasingly involved in preserving her kingdom, which is soon threatened by powerful enemies led by the evil sorcerer Lihui, who raped Nhia and forced Khailinto marry him. All the sisters are soon caught up in struggle that will take many of their lives. Full indeed, and yet, even so, more episodic than epic.
Booklist
“Fast-paced, imaginative and thoroughly engrossing.”
--Financial Times (London)
“[B]eguiling...unique...a rich cast of characters...extraordinarily accomplished.”
Joanne Harris
“[B]eguiling...unique...a rich cast of characters...extraordinarily accomplished.”
--Victoria Strauss
“Vivid and involving...an exotic journey into the imagination, and a graceful exploration of the heart.”
Louise Marley
“Alexander has created a world of depth and detail in The Secrets of Jin-Shei. A fine, rich novel.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Alexander expertly weaves the lives of characters into a plot full of intrigue and magic....”
--Whatcom Independent
... a ‘must read’....”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062026378
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/10/2010
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 547,058
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Alma Alexander is the author of several previous novels, including Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage and Worldweavers: Spellspam. She was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in the United Kingdom and Africa, and now lives in the state of Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

The Secrets of Jin-shei

One

It had been the hottest summer in living memory. The letters thatcame to the Summer Palace from those left behind to swelter inthe Imperial Court in Linh-an were full of complaints about theheavy, sultry heat that wrapped and stifled them until they gasped forbreath, the clouds that built up huge and purple every day against thebleached white sky but never brought anything except dry lightning and adistant threatening rumble of thunder. And it was barely the middle of themonth of Chanain. Summer had only just begun.

But there were few left in Linh-an. At the Summer Palace in themountains, although it was still hot enough for servants with enormouspeacock feather fans to take up posts beside the royal women's beds untilthey fell asleep at night, one could raise one's eyes to the distant whitecappedpeaks and be comforted with the dream of coolness. There wasalways a breeze in the gardens, too, whispering in the leaves of the dwarfmountain magnolia trees planted around the inner courtyard. It was pleasantto linger there in the early morning, when the bird chorus was juststarting up, or in the late afternoon with its long shadows and golden light.The voices of wild crickets mingled with captive ones in tiny wickerhouses which hung concealed in the trees. There were cool ponds andfountains where water played over the smooth mottled gray stone broughthere from a great distance by a long-dead Empress to grace her gardens.There were white flowers and red ones, some with a golden cast, andsome with heavy purple petals making their heads nod in the breeze. Andthere were the butterflies.

It was the butterflies that brought Tai there. She was not of the Court,not even of the Court's retinue; by rights she should have had no realaccess to the Imperial Gardens at all. Imperial life was complicated. Downin Linh-an, the great capital city, the lives of the women of the ImperialCourt were governed by endless rounds of etiquette and protocol. There were people to see, petitioners to receive; the higher-ranked Princesses andconcubines held their own courts, and were expected to grace publicceremonies with their presence and attend to the day-to-day business oftheir own households. All of this required strict rules about attire andadornment. Summer was the only time when a woman of the ImperialCourt of Syai was permitted to appear outside her bedroom without themandatory hours of preparation and perfection. Here, in the SummerPalace, the Court was on holiday; the women were allowed to wear theirhair down, to emerge from the seclusion of their rooms without the heavyceremonial outer robes, to go barefoot in the gardens.

And summer was the only time that the ladies had the time to devoteto the preparation of the necessary ceremonial garb for the Autumn Courtat which they were all to appear to mark their return to Linh-an fromtheir summer frolics. Everyone required a brand-new formal suit of robesfor that occasion, and the Summer Palace was always a happy muddle ofbolts of sumptuous silks, bright velvets, furs for lining hoods and tippets,and a thousand embroidery hoops with half-finished flowers andhummingbirds.

Tai's mother, Rimshi, was always part of the entourage which theImperial ladies took to the Summer Palace. Rimshi was a sorceress withthe needle. She could transform silk and velvet and brocade into lavishrobes, and her services were much in demand. Ever since she had beenwidowed, three years ago now, Rimshi had taken Tai with her to the SummerPalace. Tai had been just six when she had first come here clinging toher mother's skirts, and had been fussed over and petted and spoiled withsweets and the royal castoffs from princesses unlikely to be seen in publictwice wearing the same suit of court garb. Tai had a closet full of luxuriousrobes which her mother carefully recut and reshaped into clothes suitablefor her to wear. She was nine now, but she had become so much a part ofthe Summer Palace gardens by this time that nobody even thought aboutquestioning her presence there.

She would find an unobtrusive perch in some out-of-the-way courtyardand dream her way through lazy summer mornings listening to the cricketchorus and watching the bright butterflies flutter from flowerhead toflowerhead, contrasting white and blue and violet and vivid orange againstthe blooms and foliage. One of the gifts that had percolated to her that particularsummer, from a bored royal concubine who could not master the artof using them, was a set of colored chalks and a sheaf of thick creamy rag paper. Tai had loved the idea of drawing the somnolent summer gardens.She was only just beginning to have an idea of how the chalks worked, andher first few efforts were crude and garish, in an attempt to overcompensatefrom what she was used to, brushes and inks and the cheap thin paper shecould get back home in Linh-an. But she was learning, and these dazzlingsummer butterflies were her favorite subject.

She was smudging the finishing touches to a surprisingly delicate renditionon a hot, slow afternoon, sitting in the mottled shade of an ancienttwisted chestnut with her feet tucked tidily away under her robe andoblivious to everything else around her, when she was startled to hear avoice from behind her.

"That is actually very good," the voice observed, a young woman'svoice, sounding at once lofty and warmly approving.

Tai, who had paused in her work and had been sitting with her eyestightly closed and her head lifted in a pose of furious concentration,dropped her paper and scrambled gracelessly to her feet ...

The Secrets of Jin-shei. Copyright © by Alma Alexander. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

The Secrets of Jin-shei
A Novel

One

It had been the hottest summer in living memory. The letters that came to the Summer Palace from those left behind to swelter in the Imperial Court in Linh-an were full of complaints about the heavy, sultry heat that wrapped and stifled them until they gasped for breath, the clouds that built up huge and purple every day against the bleached white sky but never brought anything except dry lightning and a distant threatening rumble of thunder. And it was barely the middle of the month of Chanain. Summer had only just begun.

But there were few left in Linh-an. At the Summer Palace in the mountains, although it was still hot enough for servants with enormous peacock feather fans to take up posts beside the royal women's beds until they fell asleep at night, one could raise one's eyes to the distant whitecapped peaks and be comforted with the dream of coolness. There was always a breeze in the gardens, too, whispering in the leaves of the dwarf mountain magnolia trees planted around the inner courtyard. It was pleasant to linger there in the early morning, when the bird chorus was just starting up, or in the late afternoon with its long shadows and golden light. The voices of wild crickets mingled with captive ones in tiny wicker houses which hung concealed in the trees. There were cool ponds and fountains where water played over the smooth mottled gray stone brought here from a great distance by a long-dead Empress to grace her gardens. There were white flowers and red ones, some with a golden cast, and some with heavy purple petals making their heads nod in the breeze. And there were the butterflies.

It was the butterflies that brought Tai there. She was not of the Court, not even of the Court's retinue; by rights she should have had no real access to the Imperial Gardens at all. Imperial life was complicated. Down in Linh-an, the great capital city, the lives of the women of the Imperial Court were governed by endless rounds of etiquette and protocol. There were people to see, petitioners to receive; the higher-ranked Princesses and concubines held their own courts, and were expected to grace public ceremonies with their presence and attend to the day-to-day business of their own households. All of this required strict rules about attire and adornment. Summer was the only time when a woman of the Imperial Court of Syai was permitted to appear outside her bedroom without the mandatory hours of preparation and perfection. Here, in the Summer Palace, the Court was on holiday; the women were allowed to wear their hair down, to emerge from the seclusion of their rooms without the heavy ceremonial outer robes, to go barefoot in the gardens.

And summer was the only time that the ladies had the time to devote to the preparation of the necessary ceremonial garb for the Autumn Court at which they were all to appear to mark their return to Linh-an from their summer frolics. Everyone required a brand-new formal suit of robes for that occasion, and the Summer Palace was always a happy muddle of bolts of sumptuous silks, bright velvets, furs for lining hoods and tippets, and a thousand embroidery hoops with half-finished flowers and hummingbirds.

Tai's mother, Rimshi, was always part of the entourage which the Imperial ladies took to the Summer Palace. Rimshi was a sorceress with the needle. She could transform silk and velvet and brocade into lavish robes, and her services were much in demand. Ever since she had been widowed, three years ago now, Rimshi had taken Tai with her to the Summer Palace. Tai had been just six when she had first come here clinging to her mother's skirts, and had been fussed over and petted and spoiled with sweets and the royal castoffs from princesses unlikely to be seen in public twice wearing the same suit of court garb. Tai had a closet full of luxurious robes which her mother carefully recut and reshaped into clothes suitable for her to wear. She was nine now, but she had become so much a part of the Summer Palace gardens by this time that nobody even thought about questioning her presence there.

She would find an unobtrusive perch in some out-of-the-way courtyard and dream her way through lazy summer mornings listening to the cricket chorus and watching the bright butterflies flutter from flowerhead to flowerhead, contrasting white and blue and violet and vivid orange against the blooms and foliage. One of the gifts that had percolated to her that particular summer, from a bored royal concubine who could not master the art of using them, was a set of colored chalks and a sheaf of thick creamy rag paper. Tai had loved the idea of drawing the somnolent summer gardens. She was only just beginning to have an idea of how the chalks worked, and her first few efforts were crude and garish, in an attempt to overcompensate from what she was used to, brushes and inks and the cheap thin paper she could get back home in Linh-an. But she was learning, and these dazzling summer butterflies were her favorite subject.

She was smudging the finishing touches to a surprisingly delicate rendition on a hot, slow afternoon, sitting in the mottled shade of an ancient twisted chestnut with her feet tucked tidily away under her robe and oblivious to everything else around her, when she was startled to hear a voice from behind her.

"That is actually very good," the voice observed, a young woman's voice, sounding at once lofty and warmly approving.

Tai, who had paused in her work and had been sitting with her eyes tightly closed and her head lifted in a pose of furious concentration, dropped her paper and scrambled gracelessly to her feet ...

The Secrets of Jin-shei
A Novel
. Copyright © by Alma Alexander. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Enter an ancient world of courtly elegance and intrigue, where sages are also sorcerers, and the daughter of a lowly seamstress can become a companion to an empress. In this magical land there is a secret language -- a language that women have passed down from mother to daughter for countless generations -- a language that signals a bond like no other ... the bond of jin-shei.

Set in a mythical Chinese kingdom, The Secrets of Jin-shei is a timeless story of what sustains friendship -- and what tears it apart. Accepting all the joys and responsibilities of jin-shei, eight girls pledge lifelong loyalty to each other: the poet, Tai, whose promise to a dying girl changes the history of an empire; the warrior, Xaforn, an orphan who will protect her chosen family no matter what the cost; Khailin, the scholar, whose thirst for knowledge leads her into a world of dark secrets and alchemy; sage Nhia, the only person with the power to save Khailin; Tammary, the gypsy girl, whose secret lineage could ruin a royal house; Qiaan, daughter of a captain in the Imperial Guard, with family secrets of her own; the healer, Yuet, confidante to the empress; and the empress herself, Liudan, whose search for family and ultimate quest for immortality holds the power to destroy them all.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which Jin-shei sister do you identify with most? Why?

  2. Tai makes a promise to the Little Empress as she is dying, a promise which has far-reaching impact on the rest of Tai's life. Have you ever made such a promises that you have kept?

  3. 3. When Liudan asks Khaelin to do "the unthinkable" in the name of jin-shei, Khealin agrees. Do you agree with Khaelin's decision? Yuet makes a differenc choice, who do you feel made the correct choice? Why? Would you have followed Khaelin's path or Yuet's?
  4. What is the greatest sacrifice you have ever made to help a friend? Did you compromised your own values?

  5. Jin-ashu is the secret language of the jin-shei sisters. What are some other sorts of "secret languages" of women?

  6. Jin-ashu is based on a real secret language -- nushu -- which was used in some ways to subvert the patriarchal power structure in China. What other ways do reclaim power in partiarchical societies?

  7. Liudan can be viewed as emotionally unstable, yet the sisters continue to support her and allow her to influence them all -- even above and beyond the bonds of jin-shei. Why?

  8. The jin-shei sisters go to great lengths -- even the risk of death -- to protect one another. What sorts of things have your friends done for you? In what ways have you supported your friends? Is this a uniquely feminine trait? Are women "predisposed" to form these intense bonds and friendships or is that just a stereotype?

  9. Alma Alexander's characters defy stereotypes -- for example, Xaforn is the most powerful warrior, a "killing machine" by her own definition, while Liudan creates her own rules and in fact, rewrites the rulebook for the empire. How are the rest of the sister unique? In what ways have your own friends defied stereotypes?

  10. Do you agree that the bonds of friendship can be stronger than blood ties? What are some examples from your own life?

About the author

Alma Alexander is the author of three acclaimed novels that have been published exclusively in Australia and New Zealand. She was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in Africa, and now lives in the state of Washington. The Secrets of Jin-shei will also be published in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(17)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 16, 2012

    Excellent story for anyone who likes historical style fiction!

    I wasn't at all sure what to think when I read the overview of this book and the various ratings. I absolutely love books written by female Asian authors as theirs is a voice that has only recently been heard through the written word for the world to enjoy. So, with the author not being my usual favorite type of author I was even more hesitant.
    This is really a great story! The author does a fantastic job of creating a world with a distinctly Chinese feel while adding fantasy and drama. Additionally, she adds a little fantasy to the story by throwing in peoples and cultures that we would not likely find intimately intertwined in ancient China. The character development is wonderful. You really feel as you are right there with each woman throughout their lives and encounters. The only disappointment I found with reading this throuh my Nook was a great number of misspelled words, missing words or oddly formatted pages. It would seem that the Nook version was not edited well prior to release. That does detract from the enjoyment. I would still highly recommend this book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2006

    Beautiful, and enchanting

    This book was a bargain worth choosing. I absolutely loved this book. It was magical, heart-warming, and uniquely crafted. The characters were wonderfully developed, and easy to relate to. I wish there really was a sisterhood as strong as this. I want to live in this book. This book is definitely worth reading.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    Terrible!

    I don't know how this book got five stars, it's simply mind numblingly BORING. I'm one that finishs books fast and this one I've been reading for two months and still can't bring myself to finish.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2006

    Fatanstic

    I was lucky enough to get to read this book for the publisher before its release and loved it. This book has soared to my top 10 list and I recommend it constantly to customers. Its story pulls you along and moves through you until you are each of the characters.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2006

    Bellissimo!

    A beautiful story of friendship amoung women. When I was only have way through it I already knew it would become my favorite book. Intresting story, unique characters. Fantastico!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2005

    Sisterhood like none other

    Tai is a skilled girl, maybe a prodigy with the needle, but she has a special sister, a sister of the heart, the little Empress. after a fatal accident and the little empress dies, tai finds links in a sister hood that transcends blood ties. Her jin-shei sisters find themselves in an adventure that they must complete, or die trying.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2005

    Secrets of Jin-shei

    I'm only 17 years old, and this is probably the best book i've ever read in my life. its so beautiful a real journey in discovering yourself and what you really have...i just finished reading it and i can't stop crying. please read this book if you love adventure, magic, or just a good tale among a sisterhood. 5 STARS

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 16, 2013

    Absolutely LOVED it! Great story!

    Absolutely LOVED it! Great story!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    Recommend

    I am still reading this book and find it an interesting read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    Vivi

    One of the best books i have ever read. My husband was ready to divorce me because i couldnt put it down!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    Sisterhood... the good and the bad

    Surprisingly good with lots of character development.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2009

    So Glad to Have Stumbled Upon This Book

    Wow...I did not expect, when I picked it up at the library, for this book to be so good. Even though it's about 500 pages long, it took me a short time to read it because of my eagerness to reach the end. Not only did I cry quite a lot while reading this book (especially at the end) but I also learned quite a lot (espicially concerning the whole marriage thing where the bride and groom combine their first names...kinda cool). Either way, 5 stars.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2007

    Mystical Ride For the Modern Day Dreamer

    I absolutely loved this book! It had all the elements of childlike and adult adventures. You get to grow along with the characters and connect to them emotionally. You feel their loss, and their happiness. It is a profound, and beautiful story.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2005

    Secrets of Jin-shei

    Just a beautiful book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2005

    wonderful!

    I absolutely loved this book! It's a great book for people who like fantasy and magic.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2004

    A real pageturner!

    I couldn't put this book down! Murder,love,alliance,betrayal and magic! The sisterhood of the women and their devotion to one another-real,genuine concern and wanting only the best for their 'sister'.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2004

    Pageturner

    I couldn't put this book down! Sisterhood,alliance,deception and magic! Coming of age and true friendship.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2004

    Awsome!

    i absolutely loved this book! It pulls you in with romance, magic, sisterhood and coming of age. I loved it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews

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