William Adam, Author, Adam Williams, Author . St. Martin's $25.95 (640p) ISBN 978-0-312-31566-5

Lavish in the manner of James Clavell and Leon Uris, this capacious and compelling saga centers on the Boxer Rebellion, a peasant uprising against the foreign colonization of China in 1900. More specifically, it follows the sensuously detailed love affair between Henry Manners, a Victorian secret agent, and Helen Frances Delamere, a convent-educated daughter of a local British soap merchant in the invented northern Chinese city of Shishan. The rest of the massive cast is headed by Dr. Edward Airton, a Scottish physician, who runs a hospital and mission in the city. Airton has become a philosophical sparring partner to the Mandarin, a local magistrate who holds absolute power. Airton's family and friends round out the foreign presence, and a host of Chinese characters bridge the cultural gap. The villains of the piece, apart from the bloodthirsty Boxers, are Mother Liu, madam of the exclusive brothel that gives the volume its title, and her sadistic son, Ren Ren. As the rebellion develops from dubious rumor to frightening fact, the Westerners in Shishan are forced to place themselves in Manners's intrepid but amoral hands. Williams's mastery of language and plotting keeps contrivance and coincidence at bay, although he crosses the line into melodrama from time to time. In all, this is a first-rate story, peopled by passionate, believable characters and rich in historical and political detail. Agent, Araminta Whitley. (Dec.)

Correction: The name of the agent for Gary Hardwick's The Executioner's Game is Sarah Lazin at Sarah Lazin Books (Forecasts, Dec. 6).

Reviewed on: 01/03/2005
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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