The Moon in the Palace
(The Empress of Bright Moon Duology Book 1)
by Weina Dai Randel
Set in 7th c. China, the book is about an ambitious girl aspiring to power to restore her family’s fortunes and place in society.
When Wu Mei 1s five, a monk comes to visit with her father, the governor of Shanxi Prefecture. Mei is her father’s favorite and he treats her like ta son, allowing her to dress in boy’s clothes. When the monk sees her, he makes a prophecy, not realizing it will come true. He looks in her face and says: “If the child were a girl, with this face… she would eclipse the light of the sun and shine brighter than the moon. She would reign over the kingdom that governs men. She would mother the emperors of the land but also be emperor in her own name. She would dismantle the house of lies but build the temple of the divine. She would dissolve the kingdom of ghosts but found a dynasty of souls. She would be immortal.”
After that, her father starts to groom her for life at the court of Emperor Taizong in Chang’an, present day Xhian. After her father dies, the family loses everything and is forced to live with the profligate son. Whe Mei is eleven, she receives a summons to the court and her adventure begins. She learns to navigate court protocol and also learns how treacherous court intrigue can be. She falls in love and risks death, but survives.
I loved this book. The setting was fascinating, a glimpse into China’s past. Mei was an engaging and admirable protagonist and the secondary characters are well-drawn.
I met the author at the recent Historical Novel Society and had a chance to speak to her briefly. She’s very soft spoken and was really nice to talk to. Someone asked if her book was popular in China and she said it hadn’t even been translated into Chinese. She said it’s not written in a way to please Chinese audiences. They don’t have our addiction to happy (or at least satisfying) endings, plus her main character would be too modern and assertive. For instance, Mei’s father reads The Art of War to her, and she uses Sun Tzu’s wisdom in her rise to power. Chinese readers wouldn’t accept that in this time period.
From the author’s note: The story is based on the one and only female ruler in Chinese history, Wu Zetian, also known as Empress Wu. Most of the male characters in the book are real, some of the female characters are real, but not all.
The author said on Amazon that she spent ten years researching the book and received 82 rejections before Sourcebooks agreed to take a chance on it, and that chance paid off. Here’s the list of accolades the book received, all well-deserved in my view:
- Winner of RWA’s Rita Award for Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
- Nominated for Best Historical Fiction by Goodreads Choice Awards 2016
- Nominated for Best First Historical by RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award 2016
- Recommended by Texas Library Association’s 2017 Lariat List
- A San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention
What have you been reading this summer?
As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.
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A great review. My book group would love this one. I will mention it.
This would be a great book club choice, Patti.
How cool to meet the author!!!! I love learning about other cultures.
It was cool to meet her. I enjoy learning about other cultures, too.
I loved reading the details of why this book is successful here, but wouldn’t be in China. I’m glad the author persevered. I’m glad Sourcebooks stepped up to the plate. Thank you for reviewing!
How fascinating! The Japanese also prefer bittersweet endings with beautiful images over happy endings, which has been attributed to Zen Buddhism. It is interesting seeing what books cross the cultural divide.
Hmm. I didn’t think there might be a connection to Buddhism. It is interesting to learn about other cultures.
This book illustrates that good authors understand their audience and write accordingly. I enjoy meeting authors. In fact, one that is on a book tour with her new novel will be coming to my town and staying at my home while she’s here. That’s pretty exciting since I’ve read seven of her books. They are all non-fiction so I feel I know her a bit already. – Margy
How cool that you’ll get to meet her and spend some time away from the book signing.