Empire of Heaven: A Novel of Nineteenth Century China

Linda Ching Sledge, Author Bantam Books $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-553-05755-3
Transforming China's Taiping Rebellion (1847-1864) into a backdrop for superior entertainment, this debut novel evokes a realm of infinite mystery where spirit-women heal the sick and divine the future, where wives and concubines perilously ally themselves against their still more treacherous husbands. Through a world that includes the politics of imperial courts, ancient legends of warrior goddesses or catastrophic seductresses, and the followers of the self-proclaimed Younger Brother of Jesus Christ moves the spirit-woman Rulan. A heroine whose rare appeal more than mitigates the implausibility of her adventures, Rulan exorcises demons, stays at a commune of invincible and self-sufficient women, serves as a spy in the household of a mighty family, wages battle alongside the rebel forces and, of course, loves and is loved. Details enhance the story's allure: a meal features ``shrimp cunningly arranged on rare, out-of-season vegetables in the shape of a flower.'' Despite a weak, sensationalistic beginning and occasionally precious language (a ``bewhiskered carp'') this epic-length historical romance has the power to beguile. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo. (May)
Reviewed on: 01/30/1990
Release date: 02/01/1990
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