Kirkus Star


Email this review


Ancient Japan--in a scholarly, meticulous, and delicate portrait of the eighth-century Empress Shotoku-Tenno (known as ""AbÉ""), a victim of love's dangerous excess. The Empress, daughter of Emperor Shomu, is a frail and pious figure vulnerable to the power-greed of two men she adores and trusts. Nakamaro is her cousin and lover; and when AbÉ becomes Empress and becomes absorbed in the deified sovereign's lonely duty (to keep the rites and ceremonies of the old Shinto gods, to perform deeds of mercy and justice), she turns to him for guidance. But wily, merciless Nakamaro drains power--from the woman, from the Empress, from her land and people--and he finally persuades her to abdicate in favor of weak prince Oi-O (whom Nakamaro will dominate). AbÉ will be Empress again, however, after Nakamaro is overthrown and Oi-O is horribly murdered. Her mentor then will be priest Dokyo, with whom she long ago experienced total passion. Yet Dokyo's search for his own purity of spirit will also be withered by excess--he'll become so enamored of ""ivory chopsticks"" that ""his greed will have no end."" And at the close the Empress, fully aware of the danger Dokyo has become, bitterly acknowledges that ""I learned very early what it is to love more than I am loved"" and takes upon herself the blame for ""balance disturbed"" and ""respect withheld."" As in the Arthurian legends, there's resonant power here in the ways that lusts for power or love can throw the harmony of the kingdom out of tune--and Mydans has made attractive use of poetry, sutras (Buddhist teachings), and ceremonies to keep the intense and careful pace. Challenging but rewarding historical romance--an admirable attempt to interpret for Western readers a mythic/historic tragic heroine in a complex and richly patterned culture.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday