EMPIRE OF HEAVEN by Linda Ching Sledge


Email this review


Sledge's first novel--a technicolor saga inspired by her own family history--follows the life-and-death adventurers of Rulan, a Hakka spirit-woman during China's Taiping Rebellion. In 1847, uprisings against the corrupt Manchu Dynasty are as common as monsoons, but Hung, a spiritual revolutionary who claims to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ, is beginning to attract an unusually large following of downtrodden peasants and workers. Rulan's father, humiliated at having to earn his living as a charcoal bearer, ignores his healer-wife's prophecies of doom to follow the charismatic prophet. In his absence, Rulan's mother and baby brother die. Young Rulan, abandoned in a women's commune where she's taught martial arts and silk-weaving, dreams of becoming a warrior at her father's side. She soon becomes a spy for the movement in the aristocratic house of Li, her father's enemy, gradually increasing her influence in the household as healer, advisor, and concubine--until another rebel, Pao An, is brought to the house for questioning and Rulan falls in love. When Li's household is attacked by revolutionaries, Rulan and Pao An join Hung's glorious Taiping Revolution, where both perform bravely on the battlefield. But already the revolution is crumbling. Hung, who has succumbed to wild delusions of grandeur, encourages his subordinates to destroy one another, murders Rulan's father, and tries to coerce Rulan herself into giving him the elixir of immortality that he believes she possesses. Rulan is finally forced to poison her leader, and she and Pao An escape to Hawaii on separate ships. Seven years later the two warriors, rulers of their own destinies at last, reunite to begin their own dynasty based on love. Bright, bold colors on a wall-sized canvas--Sledge molds an enormous amount of historical fact into a long (544-page) but exciting, entertaining tale.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: Bantam