Bosse (Deep Dream of the Rain Forest, 1993, etc.) continues his series of vivid works of historical fiction in this story of two brothers traveling across Ming Dynasty China to pursue their destinies. Lao Chen is a young Confucian scholar headed for the ultimate glory of the palace examination and top-level civil service; Lao Hong, loyal and worldly younger brother, is determined to escort Chen to Beijing and the highest honors. Through his cunning, Hong acquires enough money to get the two brothers to Chengdu for the provincial examination, which Chen passes easily. From there they must travel the long and treacherous road to Beijing -- over the Yellow River, through drought-plagued provinces -- for the next stage of the test. In addition, each brother is carrying a secret missive -- Chen's from his teacher for an ostracized inventor, and Hong's from one member of the subversive White Lotus society to another. The brothers are separated when their junk is captured by pirates, who discover Hong's letter and torture him to discover its meaning, but Hong escapes, finds Chen, and the brothers continue on their way. When Chen passes the municipal and then the palace examination, his future is secure, and Hong is finally free to seek his own fortune through a career in the military. Bosse renders a graphic picture of 16th-century China -- its violence, ceremony, scholarship, and strict class order -- in this stimulating and timeless story.