Thomas’ debut fantasy set in ancient China depicts the first stages of a revolution against tyrannical lords.
Li Chin is a temple priest who’s just completed his five years of indentured servitude to Zu Wah, the emperor’s nephew. He’s eager to escape his sadistic master, whose violence against innocents has increased since he became the head of his house. Before Li Chin can leave, however, Zu Wah tells him that he must kill an innocent man—or watch the man’s family be slaughtered. As Li Chin prepares to carry out the order, he experiences two visions of the future: one of himself serving a series of brutal masters, and another of Zu Wah continuing his terrible cruelties. Instead of executing the prisoner, Li Chin kills Zu Wah and his 20 honor guards. He then sets off for the temple, intending to warn them of the emperor’s certain wrath. It turns out that the temple elders have been quietly working against the emperor for years without success, and in Li Chin’s actions they see the reflection of an ancient prophecy—one that offers them a chance to create a more humane society. They soon send Li Chin away to try to fulfill the rest of the prophecy. The story then follows his adventures and those of other people he meets during the course of his travels. Although Thomas’ prose is a bit awkward at the book’s beginning (“Seeing that Seesfar was ready to speak he drew closer so he could steady him, their eyes met and Melong looked aside to avoid the unsettling patterns still visible in their depths”). There are also a few troubling cultural discrepancies, including the use of Western naming conventions. However, the author’s style soon becomes more polished as he works his way into the story. Along the way, his likable characters engagingly struggle with the meaning of honor in a rigidly organized society, and Thomas repeatedly returns to the idea that one finds true honor in acting righteously—even if it means breaking the rules.
A complex fantasy that will particularly appeal to aficionados of ancient-world history.