This book was interesting, I suppose. It kind of reminded me of a shorter version of Game of Thrones, set in ancient China. It was billed as a fantasy, and while there are fantastical elements, it didn’t come across to me as mainly fantasy, if that makes sense. The novel follows multiple viewpoints across ancient China over a period of years, during which all portents point to the Portal of a Thousand Worlds opening, which only happens every thousand of years or so, meaning no one actually knows if the Portal opens, or what happens when it does. Under this mystical uncertainty, the country also faces a number of upheavals, from the growing rebel army of the Bamboo Banner to massive natural disasters. Against this backdrop, the reader is treated to characters entrenched in the politics and machinations of the world.
I didn’t love this book. It was okay. The story was interesting, though a bit slow to unfold. The differing viewpoints, however, were interesting. I got to follow assassins, clothed as an order of monks who bury the dead, and the Empress Mother, as well as merchants and concubines who got caught in their webs. There are small love stories here, there’s intrigue, there’s politics, there’s rebellion, there’s unrest, and there’s some fantastical elements, such as a wise teenager who is the reincarnation of a man who’s constantly being killed by emperors and reborn years later. It was good, though sometimes the chapters read like loosely connected short stories, but maybe that was just because I read this in short bursts. Like Game of Thrones, it was interesting to know everything, when the characters didn’t. Just like in Westeros, rumors abound here. I love political fantasies, so I did like this, even if the fantasy elements were sorely lacking (there was a dragon for like 5 seconds, and some magic, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting).
I also felt like just as the story was getting going and at its most intriguing when it ended. As I watched the percentage on my Kindle near the end, I was sad because I felt like the ending would be rushed, because all of the threads were JUST starting to come together, and this is a standalone novel as far as I could tell (and I was correct). The story reaches a climax of sorts, and then everything is very quickly wrapped up and we are given a short prologue to explain how the rest of our characters’ lives played out. I feel like the building that was happening near the end could have led to another book and more story, and I would have been happy to read it. Instead, I felt like it petered out just as it was really getting good. However, wanting more of something isn’t a bad criticism, as criticisms go.
Overall, I had some things I liked about the book, and some I did not. The stories and characters were interesting, and I got some good political machinations with violence and love, which I kind of adore. The ending, however, was rushed, and I wish the author would have built into a longer, more epic and fulfilling story. This book is good to check out, though, if you like stories of political maneuvering and intrigue.
Note: I received a free e-galley of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Have you read any Dave Duncan books (or this one)? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!