For a debut novel - heck, for any novel - this is spectacular. Set flawlessly in Qing dynasty China (1708), exiled Imperial librarian Li Du comes to Dayan on the Tibetan border asking permission to pass through. His distant cousin, a pompous magistrate who is run by his secretary and his official hostess, oversees the province, long known to the ruling Manchus as a trouble spot. The Emperor will visit in six days to display his Son of Heaven moniker by predicting an eclipse of the sun. Guests arrive with spectacular gifts, among them a representative of Britain's East India Company, greedy for China's trade. Li Du meets a Jesuit priest, Father Pieter, an astronomer, one of the order of priests long influential in the country. Click below for more, but never a spoiler...
The priest dies in his room: an old man, the magistrate declares, it is a natural death. Li Du is sure that it is anything but natural and finds poisoned tea. For all its seeming leisurely pace, this book is complex and quick-paced, chock full of history, politics, culture, and a variety of personable characters. This is a 5, and I sure hope Elsa Hart's got more coming.
Find the author at www.elsahart.com
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