Magic, romance and courtly intrigue propel this story of life under the first Emperor of unified China, as seen through the eyes of a foreigner.
Days before his coronation, assassins plot the murder of Ying Jeng, who is about to become the new King of Chin. Luckily, Marcus Lucius Scipio, a Roman traveler and former soldier, shows up just in time to foil the assassination attempt. As a man without a home who is fleeing the horrors of war, Marcus decides to stick around. He and the king become friends, and the ruler regularly turns to Marcus for guidance as he battles to unite the Warring States into a unified China. In time, Marcus meets Sister Ming, a lover from a previous life, and they pick up where they left off the last time around. However, as an academician and something of an early feminist, Ming is frequently at odds with the Emperor, who has a nasty habit of destroying books he doesn’t like and burying scholars with whom he disagrees. Meanwhile, while King Jeng struggles to unify China, Old Juang, leader of the Reds gang in the Chin capital, seeks to consolidate his own power, frequently relying on Tao, an orphan he saved from the plague. Tao has the uncanny ability to know what others are thinking and sees details that others do not, two gifts that Old Juang exploits mercilessly. When Tao eventually takes over the Reds, he increasingly turns to dark forces to hone his supernatural abilities. By following the lives of several different people of various places in society, Fields vividly evokes ritual, politics, supernatural belief and everyday life in ancient China, although his tendency to slip unannounced into his characters’ inner thoughts and visions can sometimes leave the reader confused.
A fascinating, dreamlike novel of the origins and early history of the Chinese Empire.