is an alternate-history fantasy set in nineteenth-century China. Ten centuries have passed since the last time the Portal of a Thousand Worlds opened, bringing radical change to the then-ruling dynasty, and now the mystical gateway is rumored to be on the verge of opening once more.
Only the Firstborn—he who has been reincarnated through countless generations and remembers all he has ever learned—knows what the future holds, but he has been imprisoned for refusing to comply with a repressive imperial government’s wishes.
Now, those hoping to seize the opportunity for wealth and position are hatching sinister plots. And as the cold-hearted dowager empress closely guards a fateful secret, and a rebel army led by a fanatical zealot gathers strength under the Bamboo Banner, the cataclysm approaches. . .
My Thoughts, Let Me Show You Them
I really enjoyed this book, first off, because it wasn’t the first part of a trilogy just masquerading as a story I could enjoy in one go. It’s also nice to see books set in a pastiche of alternate Asia, I like seeing my fantasy set in worlds that aren’t Europe-inspired!
I will say that in the first third of the book (Kindle says it was 20%) I became totally bored by the escapades of Silky. I had to flip to the ending to see if the book was worth finishing. I can see Silky’s adventures – especially a set piece involving a dragon – translating well to the screen, but they were unnecessary to the story here, and just filler. The dragon, for example, has no role other than to remind readers that we’re in a fantasy setting. There is no more mention of mythical creatures, the rest of the action takes place among humans, in court and elsewhere.
In addition, the character of Silky seemed superfluous to the story. Without giving away too many spoilers, his presence in the story wasn’t central to the plot, and the other two characters would have continued on their set course even if he hadn’t interacted with them.
One last thing, although it is just a tiny thing – the first third of the book was difficult for me to get through, the names of the places and people were so similar. Sometimes all that signaled that I was reading about a person was the numeral at the end of their name. Duncan has used Arabic numerals to denote name being inherited, instead of Roman, for some reason, which made it difficult for me to parse, initially.
In spite of all these issues, though, I enjoyed the book. I liked reading about palace intrigue and the eternally reincarnated boy, and I loved the denouement – I found it utterly charming.
Why You Should Read This
A great setting, a story with closure – and a happy ending! – and memorable protagonists, this is a fun ride. Would definitely recommend to lovers of alternate universe fantasy.