Set in eighth century China during the T'ang dynasty, this massive historical novel quickly captures the imagination while its accuracy of detail rewards readers interested in the period. In the glittering court of Emperor Minghuang, the death of the young crown prince sets off whispers of murder. On the heels of this tragedy, Minghuang is forced to banish his beloved empress for the crime of dabbling in witchcraft. While the emperor slips into a terrible depression, his sly, deceitful chief minister gathers power. Kao Li-Shih, the sharp-witted chief eunuch, reawakens Minghuang by sending him the beauteous Precious Consort, but love only causes China's ruler to further neglect his duties. Precious Consort's sisters, the Yangs, are a delicious parody of the three graces as they glide through the palace with their bitchy, amusing chatter hiding swift intelligence. As a spirit of decadence takes hold in the court, the Yangs mistakenly champion the barbarian general An Lu-Shan, a laughing trickster who eventually moves to crush the T'ang dynasty despite all that Kao Li-Shih does to stop him. Vivid characters and alluring descriptions make this first novel by a gifted team a triumphant mix of fact and fiction. (Jan.)
It all begins because Lady Wu, favored consort of the Emperor, decides to pursue a hobby. Traitorous messages inside flowers delivered for arranging speak to her latent ambitions. She plans the assassination of the young prince; her own son rejects his new right to the throne; the Empress commits suicide; and the Emperor retreats into his grief. Lin Lin-fu, the unscrupulous chief minister and author of the flower messages, begins a masterfully executed reign of terror, impeded only by Kao Li-Shih, the Emperor's chief eunuch and best friend. The intricate tapestry of 8th-century China unfolds as slowly and artistically as a lotus blossom in this spellbinding novel with believable characters. Highly recommended for most public libraries. Joan Hinkemeyer, Englewood P.L., Col.