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One of Paterson's solemn historical adventures, on a par with her exquisitely evoked Japanese novels, this one set in China in the thick of the Taiping Rebellion. Teenage Wang Lee is kidnapped from his father's humble farm by swinish bandits, then purchased by a kind stranger who turns out to be Mei Lin, a woman, little older than himself, strong and shockingly unwomanly in her large unbound feet. Mei Lin brings him into the secret society of the Heavenly Kingdom and teaches him its Christian-derived, anti-Manchu, class-free doctrines--but it is not until they and their traveling companion Chu have been some time in the society's mountain headquarters, preparing for war with the reigning Demons, that Wang Lee becomes caught up in the Heavenly fervor. By then the males and females have been separated, Mei Lin has become an officer among the horseback Women Warriors, and Wang Lee is in charge of a small group of soldiers. He learns to kill but never overcomes for long the unease at some of the deeds performed in the name of Heavenly peace. He comes to love Mei Lin but she discourages all personal feelings and spouts the dicta of the society. Finally, however, Mei Lin--who in her earlier life had been sold as a slave to satisfy the lusts of soldiers--is summoned to be the bride of the Heavenly King, a man we've seen only from a distance but one who is projected as an absolute monarch as tricky and corrupt as any other. To escape the wedding--in a rather abrupt change of attitude--Mei Lin flees with Wang Lee and the two settle happily to raise a family on his father's land. Before their reunion he's had other adventures, including a period of kitchen service disguised as a girl--a result of being recaptured, when sent out as a spy, by the same bandits who had kidnapped him originally. The pair has also been through a number of battles with the army and imperative celebration within the camp. The whole course of Wang Lee's awakening, disillusionment, and return is set down quite formally, with Paterson's talent for tapestry-like recreations.
Pub Date: June 21st, 1983
ISBN: 0888998856
Page count: 266pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1983