The dragon is awake and she is furious. With only one young man, Han, preventing her from wreaking slaughter throughout the land it is surely only a matter of time until she breaks free. Yet the Li Goddess who rules the seas also wants the dragon to leave and through her chosen vessels she can prevent the dragon from harming ships in her waters. The young Emperor Chien Hua seeks to use this to his advantage, sending boats across the strait to defeat his enemies, but he also has secret enemies amongst his close advisers who wish him harm. Chien Hua’s mother and his favourite concubine, Mae Lin, must join forces to save the Emperor, with a little help from an old jade carver who has been given the task of a lifetime.
‘Jade Man’s Skin’by Daniel Fox is the second book in a sweeping fantasy, The Moshui Trilogy, set in feudal China. It follows on immediately from the first book, ‘Dragon In Chains’, and I’d definitely advise that you read that one first. There are a lot of characters to keep up with and even having read book one, I was struggling at the start of ‘Jade Man’s Skin’.
Having said that, once you do get all the characters and plots straight in your head, this becomes a really impressive piece of fantasy fiction. The setting is beautifully detailed, the characters are strong and varied and the plot is complicated yet satisfying.
The fantasy element is woven in with the mythology of China, featuring the wild power of the dragon, the mystical properties of jade and the fierce determination of a local sea goddess. At all times it feels perfectly integrated with the story and is very subtle, so that I suspect people who enjoy reading about feudal China, but aren’t necessarily fantasy fans, would also enjoy this book. There is plenty of action in the battle scenes, a dash of humour and plenty of politics, something for everyone.
There is also quite a strong focus on the characters’ relationships that serves as a counter-balance to the action. Mae Lin, inexperienced fishing girl, is learning politics as she develops her relationship with Chien Hua. Jiao, confident and headstrong, starts to doubt herself when an old flame of Yu Shan’s appears. Han loves Tien, but cannot be with her until he is free of the dragon. Perhaps, most engaging of all, is the unlikely relationship between the messenger Chung and his soldier lover, Shen, for whom Chung braves his fear of battle to follow Shen into war. They all come together to bring humanity and emotion to the plot and the engagement with the characters is stronger because of these relationships.
‘Jade Man’s Skin’ is a nicely balanced book that brings together action and emotion in an engaging fantasy setting. There is perhaps a little too much going on at times, making this a series to read without long gaps between books so that you don’t lose track of characters and plot, but I think this is forgivable because it is a unique and beautifully written book. I am looking forward to seeing how Fox finishes the series off in book three.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 419 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $18.98 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50304-63)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com