This hopeful coming-of-age story weaves together historical facts and spiritual/cultural beliefs to tell a tale of empowerment from the perspective of a poor, young female—one of the lowliest members of society in medieval China.
Using fitting metaphors and similes—“a metal wok as big as a wheel cart” and “fuzz…as curly as tea leaves”—debut author Lim effectively transports readers to a rural village in 1102 China. Jing, 11, an illiterate but intelligent farmer’s daughter, despises her name because her peers make fun of it. Her name, Jing (crystal), is a homonym for jing, animal spirits in the process of transforming into deities. However, Jing has bigger things to worry about when she’s married off to become a 3-year-old boy’s “wife” and, more realistically, nursemaid. Over the next few years, Jing endures much hardship. She is physically and emotionally tortured by her in-laws and eventually sold to a house of courtesans. Fortunately, Jing manages to escape and returns to her home village, but not without the help of several jing. As she and her companions adventure together, Jing realizes her destiny is intrinsically intertwined with the Great Golden Huli Jing, her village’s guardian fox jing. Although some of the dialogue and action may seem uncharacteristic of the time and culture, they are no distraction. Lim eloquently relates Jing’s journey from blindly obedient little girl to strong, confident young woman. In the end, Jing knows exactly what she wants, follows through, and finds refuge.
Fantasy, history, folklore, memorable characters, and even a hint of humor converge for a great read. (Historical fantasy. 9-14)