The looming threat of a once-in-a-millennium magical event sends nineteenth-century China into violent chaos in this epic alternate-history fantasy.
Author of the Seventh Sword series Dave Duncan transports us to Imperial China in an alternate nineteenth century—an Asian epoch not unlike the Boxer Rebellion era—with a spellbinding tale of rebellion, political intrigue, larceny, seduction, shape-shifting, dark magic, and murder. These are troubled years in the Good Land.
Ten centuries have passed since the last time the Portal of a Thousand Worlds opened, bringing chaos, upheaval, and radical change to the then-ruling dynasty, and now the mystical gateway is rumored to be on the verge of opening once more. Only the Firstborn—he who has been reincarnated through countless generations and remembers all he has ever learned—knows what the future holds, but he has been imprisoned for refusing to comply with a repressive imperial government’s wishes.
Now, those hoping to seize the opportunity for wealth and position are hatching sinister plots. And as the cold-hearted dowager empress closely guards a fateful secret, and a rebel army led by a fanatical zealot gathers strength under the Bamboo Banner, the cataclysm approaches. . . .
The recipient of two Aurora Awards and numerous Locus and Endeavour Award nominations, Dave Duncan is an acknowledged master of sword-and-sorcery adventure on par with George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. A sprawling epic with a colorful cast of royals, thieves, prostitutes, gods, warriors, dragons, assassins, merchants, and mages set against the backdrop of a volatile alternate Asia, Portal of a Thousand Worlds is a magnificent work of invention from one of the premier fantasists of our day.
Duncan (When the Saints) returns to the alternate-history oeuvre with this reimagined Boxer Rebellion tale. Though arguably too overworked for its own good, it's nevertheless a deftly, imaginatively plotted work of fantasy. Duncan's version of 19th-century China has been twisted by the titular portal's influence: nobody knows what chaos will occur when it opens each millennium, only that it is set to do so again soon. This massively important event is so built up that when it eventually happens, it can't help but be anticlimactic; the intricate politicking that makes up most of the book ends up being far more satisfying than the portal-related events. Readers follow the somewhat sinister escapades of a rags-to-riches assassin, the unfolding of a dynasty-altering conspiracy, a vast brainwashed army laying waste to its own country, and the tribulations of the only human whose memory transcends death. The little magic Duncan describes is enough to suggest much more, setting up massively satisfying plot twists. Though Duncan's narrative is male-centric and contains multiple eyebrow-raising scenes of sexual assault, he does a better job than most in his genre at creatively restructuring historical gender roles, and his bone-dry wit is at the top of its class. Song of Ice and Fire fans should take note.
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Portals of thousand worlds
Standard Duncan - Very Good
For his fans (I'm one), another high-quality addition to Duncan's voluminous body of work, providing reading enjoyment with bits of wisdom and kindness mixed in. (Sounds like Terry Pratchett, but Duncan's main focus is adventure, not humor.)
For those who aren't familiar with Duncan, please give him a chance. Duncan is significantly undervalued. In his best stories, his imagination and writing skill combine to provide adventure tales of the highest caliber.