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In a quantum leap from recent China politics (Till Morning Comes, 1982), veteran novelist Hah Suyin now conjures up a magical picaresque entertainment, set in mid-18th-century France, Thailand (""Ayuthia""), and China: a grand collage of scenic exotica, court rituals and ruinations, narrow escapes and horrid ends--with some tantalizing byways into the bizarre crafting of animated figures and ""androids."" The tale begins in Calvinist Lausanne, where twin siblings grow up with special gifts: Bea is something of a psychic; her brother Colin shows a talent for making ""automata""--mechanical figures then much in demand as miraculous toys. Orphaned in a witch hunt, Bea and Colin become reluctant wards of a noble uncle, whose title Colin will inherit. They escape, however. And, with the help of a Jewish scholar/banker, they travel to China--where Colin is to repair and build automata for the Mandarins. But: the ruling Manchus are closing trade: foreign merchants, mechanics, and engineers are dwindling in number; eventually Bea and Colin's patron is accused of treason; Bea's trip to Peking to avert catastrophe ends in failure. So the twosome must again take flight--to the exquisite city/kingdom of Ayuthia, ruled by a weak, capricious emperor. Colin falls in love there--with an exquisite girl who's snatched away by a sinister court magician to be sacrificed. (Colin's construction of an animated goddess averts this.) Bea, now wed to a Prince, also finds passion--amid a dreadful invasion from Burma. And finally, while Bea returns to Lausanne with only an automaton to love, Colin settles down to domestic life--after a career of scholarly excitement, a lost love, and a parade of his automated soldiers. The author, lovingly dwelling on fabulous visions of old cities and some beguiling historical oddities, seems to have enjoyed herself immensely. So will the reader.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Bantam