Ti Ren-chieh (Magistrate Dee)
He’s been called the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. We think
of him as A Man For All Centuries. Educated, rational, inquisitive and compassionate, he has a penchant for putting himself in the minds, hearts and shoes--as well as the clothing--of criminals and their victims. And he’ll go wherever he needs to go
to solve a crime, whether it’s a fine home or palace, a monastery or the stinking alleys and foul waters of the canal district of his city, Yangchou. Anywhere but home, where his two wives, elderly mother and pair of delinquent sons make his teeth hurt
and his life miserable…
Average son of a great father, Kaotsung is always being compared to the late Emperor Taitsung, and always comes up short. Taitsung himself, before he died, feared that his son was perhaps not prime Emperor material,
and so 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 has also inherited
the smooth, fragrant and delectable Lady Wu, once a favored concubine 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? Who is willing to sacrifice everything, with no thought whatsoever for herself, to offer up her body,
her skin, her hair, her mouth, her womb, her very life-force, and especially, her resolve, abundant enough for an army, to bring her Imperial Husband’s name out from under his father’s shadow? And who 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?
Behind every great woman is a mother. If the mother has an identical or perhaps even stronger will and intelligence, is as beautiful as her daughter, and is a mere fourteen years older, so that
at times it’s difficult to know whether one is addressing the mother or the daughter, so much the better. And so much more the better if the mother is, if anything, even freer than her daughter of such weaknesses as vacillation, pity, self-doubt and
humility. If she also happens to be rich, literate, well-connected, and fearless, then she is Madame Yang, who puts every Tiger Mother who ever lived, or will ever live, to shame.
An obsequious, dangerous little lap dog of a man who knows that history, like the future, is fluid, malleable. He, too, is a
magician of sorts—his nimble brush, flying down the page, corrects and polishes the errors of the past, thereby shaping the desired future, and his diminutive legs carry him unerringly to where he is needed: aside the highest and mightiest, where he
can become a facilitator of their will. He fawns, flatters and connives, lacking only a furiously wagging tail, but so keen is his vision and his skill with words that Madame Yang and the Empress not only scratch him behind the ears, but find him utterly indispensible
in their ascent to the pinnacle.