The Empress Dowager, as the Western world knew her, is the central figure of this enthralling biographical novel told with much more authority than in a synthetics novel of 1954- Forbidden City by Muriel Jernigan, on the name theme. Pearl , growing up in China, knew her as a figure of awe, virtually a goddess, and has here told the story-book tale of her life, from concubine to one of the world's most powerful and terrifying figures. Fiction has been built around her -- adventure stories have used the Forbidden City and the various famous palaces as settings. But as one reads this story, one feels that here is Tzu Hsi, concubine of the third rank, ambitions, beautiful, intelligent far beyond her time. She loved one man only, Jung Lu, a cousin to whom she was plighted at the time she was chosen for the weakling emperor. But once within the palace, the lust for power became her controlling guide, and nothing was allowed to divert her. Pearl Buck has embroidered her story with glamorous details of the aspects of the life of the fabulous court. She has drawn a wholly credible picture of the rivalries, the plots that constantly threatened the Dragon Throne. She has written into her main story numerous minor themes. But she never loses sight of Tzu Hsi in all her moods, in her brilliance and cruelty and ruthlessness, in her growing hate for the foreigners that culminated in superstition giving release to the ill-fated Boxer Rebellion, in the compromises which marked the close of a reign that paralleled Victoria's in importance. A long novel, with a holding and compelling interest.