...with her lookalike mother, Madame Yang, her senior by a mere fourteen years, Wu spares nothing and no one in her ascent from the rank of mere court concubine,
starting with the murder of her own infant daughter and then the sexual conquest of the T’ang Dynasty Emperor Kaotsung. Mediocre son of a great father, Kaotsung is always being compared to the late Emperor Taitsung, and always coming
up short. Before his death, the father, fearing that his son was perhaps not prime Emperor material, conferred authority on six elderly trusted advisors to represent Taitsung from beyond the grave, to watch over
young Kaotsung until he should mature. The wrinkled and aged Council of Six are not Taitsung’s only legacy—Kaotsung also inherits the smooth, fragrant and delectable Lady Wu, once a favored consort of his father’s. A lucky man! Or is
he? And who will help poor weak Kaotsung find the strength he needs to be a great Emperor? And who, again with the help of Madame Yang, will not allow sentimentality to impede her in the removal of six extremely
irritating, tiresome and meddlesome old men who should have been dead long ago?
Meanwhile, in the gritty port city of Yangchou, far away from the Imperial court, another historical denizen of the T'ang, Magistrate Ti
Ren-chieh (known to millions of readers through Robert Van Gulik's popular series the Judge Dee mysteries, but here restored to his rightful era), is obsessed with a series of mysterious murders. He, like other rational Confucianists devoted to empirical
thought and the eradication of ignorance, is dismayed by an incursion in the Empire of what he sees as a dark, foreign, cultish, backward, superstitious influence. As he cracks these baffling cases, his investigations take him
far from the light of rational Confucianism and deep into the shadows of charlatan Buddhism, where hucksters, poseurs and opportunists abound. Little does he imagine where his perseverance will deliver him.
Aided by her mother
and eventually by a rogue Tibetan monk-magician, Hsueh Huai-i, who is also her lover, the Empress Wu overcomes the final barrier to ultimate power: her gender. The challenge of Dee’s career arrives in the form of the bloody hoofprints of
a horse on the shining wooden floors of the mansions of slaughtered wealthy families in the capital city of Ch’angan. Clues hidden in Buddhist sutras lead Dee into the arcane world of demons, saints and prophecies, and ultimately to the palace, the Empress
herself, and an extraordinary showdown with Hsueh Huai-i.
"Wonderful...compelling...a hard-driven saga of good and evil without the car chases. Enough beheadings, poisonings and
back-stabbings, both literal and figurative, to bloody a whole series of books..."
--San Francisco Chronicle