Empress: A Novel by Evelyn McCune: A Book Review
Author: McCune, Evelyn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: 1994
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Young Jao is a tomboyish thirteen, the culturally insignificant second daughter of a nobleman's second wife, when she is summoned to the imperial palace as one of the Emperor's new concubines. Jao's straightforward ways and logic, her innocence, and her beauty earn her the great warrior Emperor Taitsung's respect, attention, and finally, his love. But his death finds her banished to a convent until his son, Emperor Kaotsung, realizes his passion for Jao. Recalled to the palace, Jao discovers a place so entrenched in enmity and malice that she is forced to fight for power and just rule.
Sweeping through exotic, turbulent seventh-century China, Empress is the captivating epic of one extraordinary woman who would become the only female emperor in all of China's history. The story of Wu Jao, set against the backdrop of medieval China, reveals not only an age of horrifying barbarism, daring treachery, and precarious power, but also an eternal culture of sophistication and enlightenment.
My Review: This historical fiction novel about China's only female emperor is filled with romance, betrayal, and court intrigue. The story starts off as Jao, a young 13 year old, leaves to become the concubine of the Chinese Emperor. When she arrives, she is thrust into a position in which she and the other concubines are rivals for the Emperor's attention. Wu Jao use her intelligence, her beauty, honesty, and virtues to embark on a quest for power. When the Emperor dies, Jao is forced to live as a Buddhist nun for the rest of her life. However, her fate changes when the new Emperor realizes his love for Jao and sends her back to the palace. She competes for the title of Empress to the new Emperor. Eventually, she rises to become China's only female Emperor.
Before I read this book, I didn't know much about Chinese history. However, this novel gives a great introduction into the Chinese Medieval era. Because McCune writes vivid details of Imperial China, I felt as if I was walking alongside Jao (Emperor Wu). This book is also filled with Chinese customs, beliefs, and philosophy. It also discussed medieval Chinese politics that were later important to Emperor Wu's reign. I liked how McCune was very sympathetic to Emperor Wu. History has not been kind to China's only female emperor. Instead, she is criticized for being a ruthless power hungry schemer who plots to get rid of her rivals in order to become Emperor. McCune however, paints Jao as a victim rather than a cold-blooded murderer. It is others around her that are plotting to destroy her, and she must act to ensure her survival.
Overall, this book is a great account for those who are interested in Chinese history. McCune is very sympathetic to Wu Jao, and tries to justify her actions through her novel. McCune makes the readers want to learn about Emperor Wu Jao and Medieval China. This book is a little slow when Jao is Emperor, but it is still interesting to read about her reign. This novel is full of treachery, betrayal, court intrigue, and romance. Most of all, it is about an insignificant girl's journey who rises from her humble origins to become the most powerful person in China. Wu Jao's story is remarkable and astounding. This book will surely delight fans of Philippa Gregory and historical fiction lovers.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars