We follow this one with The Court of the Lion, written in 1988 by Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri. It’s a whopping thousand-page novel about the 8th Century T’ang dynasty (yep, we’re
back in China), and despite its length and requisite enormous cast, it’s a nimble dance of a book, as smart and funny and sharp as any historical fiction you’ll ever read (Cooney and Altieri also collaborated on a much slimmer – and almost
equally good – historical novel called Deception, also well worth your time to hunt down and read). The story centers on the revered emperor Hsuan-tsung, a strong and mostly good man surrounded by scheming viziers,
power-mad generals, obsequious eunuchs, and beautiful courtesans, and our authors pepper their narrative with the fabled poetry of the era, extracts from the fabled philosophy of the era, and their own easy natural feel for the flow of a scene:
Love. It brings them back from the edge of death, from what I have heard. It makes them whole again. Songs and poetry were rife with testimonials to its healing power. But the Emperor seems
to be beyond its reach; he has no interest at all in any of the harem women – says his “old man” is as limp as a drowned snake. Who, then? What woman is going to come and work this miracle and wake him up before it is too late? Kao Li-shih
was interrupted by Lu Pei quietly opening the door and entering the room. In the moment that his eyes met the apprentice’s, inspiration hit.
“Grand Verity,” he said aloud.
“Pardon me?” said Lu Pei politely as he shut the door behind him.
“That is her name.”
“It has been two years. I had nearly forgotten!” Kao Li-shih leaned forward as the apprentice lifted his eyebrows appreciatively. “Lu Pei, we are going to try to wake the dead.”
I can’t recommend The Court of the Lion enthusiastically enough – it’s got everything a great big fat historical novel should have, in even greater helpings than most of these dozen
books are lucky enough to have.