History as foretold by the I Ching and as dreamed by Confucius collides with the reality of ancient China--in this sequel to French writer LÃ‰vi's Goncourt prize-winning The Chinese Emperor (1987). Tired of the cruel age of metal instituted by the austere emperor Chin, third-century B.C. Chinese yearn for a wise and compassionate ruler who will inaugurate an age of peace and prosperity. And just such a man has been foretold in the hexagrams of I Ching as weft as dreamed by Confucius, who foresaw a commoner known as Whet-Iron rising to the dragon throne. In chapters headed by quotations from the hexagrams, the fulfilling of the dream and the prophecies begins as young Whet-Iron, whose mother was impregnated by a dragon, embarks upon his inexorable rise to imperial glory. He has an inauspicious start as a corrupt local police chief, but he's soon transformed in such ways as to gain recognition as a leader. Whet-Iron, who has his own reasons for believing in his eventual greatness, removes the Chin dynasty's emperor--with help from a slew of self-servers, loyalists, and idealists--but has to contend with the equally ambitious Plume. The two men and their armies devastate the country as they fight, and though Whet-Iron is ultimately successful, he turns out to be ""not the kind of compassionate ruler who would bring about the reign of Heaven on Earth."" He might introduce ritual based on Confucianism, but in the end he was merely ""the steel that slashes and cuts to strengthen the trunk of Authority. As it must be, and always will be."" Dreams deceive, prophecies only haft-explain, reality is all. An age-old political lesson taught with insight and imagination, but lost sometimes in the hurly-burly of an incident-glutted plot and a confusion of characters. Subtle, if perhaps too subtle at times.