Bartle Bull, Author . Carroll & Graf $26 (340p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1314-1

Shifting his setting from Café on the Nile 's mid-1930s Africa, Bull is back with another bloody good atmospheric (and frankly erotic) historic swashbuckler, this time set in Shanghai at the end of WWI. Fleeing the Bolsheviks in September 1918, 17-year-old Alexander Karlov and his mother and twin sister abandon their vast Russian estate (where five generations of his family have bred and trained black chargers for the czars) and take the Trans-Siberian railway 4,000 miles east to the port of Vladivostok, intending to reunite with Count Karlov, Alexander's soldier/father. When the train is attacked by Bolsheviks and Alexander's leg is broken, he must look helplessly on as his mother is murdered and his sister kidnapped by ruthless commissar Viktor Polyak. Taking their prize horses, Alexander and his father escape Vladivostok on a freighter just ahead of the Bolsheviks, looking to make a new life in exotic Shanghai. There, Mao Zedong and Soviet agent Mikhail Borodin are urging the downtrodden Chinese peasants to revolution, and Jessica James, 18, the impressionable daughter of passive missionaries, has come under Mao's thrall. Alexander barely sets foot on shore when, in rapid-fire order, he succumbs to the charms of his rich cousin's wanton mistress, rescues Shanghai's most infamous madam and helps his father establish Salle d'Armes, a riding and fencing school—all this before he meets Jesse, becomes a racing jockey and gets revenge on Polyak. Typical of Bull's sweeping epics, this unflinchingly gory yarn evokes the sights, sounds, tastes and scents of a splendidly decadent era. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 12/01/2003
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-7867-1486-5
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