A death by poisoned arrow begins this violent epic of the Qing Dynasty.
Shuler (One Month of the Well-Watered Life Devotional, 2014, etc.), the author of books on business management and personal growth, may seem like an unlikely scribe to pen a passionate tale of the Manchu empire. Nonetheless, his first novel unfolds with panache, bringing to life the tangled, suspenseful espionage of the late Qing Dynasty. Jade and her husband, Wu Lei, have fought side by side in a fierce band of husband-and-wife warriors for years, defending the imperial family against power-hungry warlords. After winning a typically bloody battle, Wu Lei succumbs to a mysterious wound and dies; Jade reaches for his sword, “determined to cut her own throat with its razor-sharp edge” or, barring that, to die of exposure. She changes her mind, however, when she discovers that her beloved was poisoned by one of their supposed allies. In order to locate his killers—the mysterious Madame Viper and her compatriot, Black Dagger—Jade braves a gauntlet of trials, including a forced marriage to a powerful general, scenes of furious swordplay, and a confrontation with the traitorous head of the Golden Ginkgo, “a rebel society bent upon overthrowing the Dragon Throne.” Shuler’s narratives move swiftly and assuredly through ably described locales, from soldier’s camps in the countryside, where “the land under the moonlight appeared to be deep in undisturbed slumber,” to the “solemnity…and fear” surrounding Beijing’s Forbidden City. As he introduces readers to emperors and scoundrels, eunuchs and courtesans, he never lets the pace of the story slack, ensuring that readers will accompany him, and his characters, to the conclusion.
A ravishing work of historical fiction about devotion and revenge amid the “bloodstained dust” of war.