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 LÇvi'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 well 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 half-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.