Book Three of the T’ang Trilogy: “Better than Shogun!” said reviews of the now-classic, internationally-published THE COURT OF THE LION.
Based on a true story from the eighth century, it is a fictionalized telling of one of the most powerful, tragic chronicles in Chinese history: the events leading up to the Rebellion of An Lu-shan and the fall of the Emperor Minghuang, grandson of the Iron Empress Wu, and with him, the Precious Consort Yang Kuei-fei and the dazzling Yang family. All of the major characters are real people, immortalized in the works of renowned T’ang poets Li Po and Tu Fu.
In 738, rational Confucianism extant, the T’ang restored after the depredations of the Empress Wu, it is a time of expansion, peace and artistry. The Emperor is a ruler of extraordinary humanity, his justice and compassion legendary. An ambitious minor court consort, inspired by tiny characters painted on silk flowers delivered to her chambers, suggesting a greater destiny for her, makes a bold play. The favored crown prince is murdered and the current Empress framed. But the conniving woman is no Wu Tse-tien: weak and vacillating, she goes mad with guilt, her scheme collapsing.
Chief Minister Li Lin-fu, a man for whom the term “Machiavellian” is too mild, himself a great admirer of the Iron Empress, watches the various threats to the security of the Empire by invaders in the far northern territories. Li Lin-fu is content to let the artistic, compassionate emperor be a figurehead, but knows that the hard work of realpolitik governance rests with him. Observing the Emperor’s descent into apathy and grief in the wake of the crown prince’s murder, Li Lin-fu recognizes an opportunity. He brings to court from the far north an up-and-coming ex-slave whose daring military exploits have earned him rank and reputation. An Lu-shan is rough, huge, bearded, uncouth and uneducated, but Li Lin-fu intends to gain control of him and use him to secure the northern territories. Ah, but the best-laid plans…..
The grandeur, mystery, eroticism, horror, sensuality and scope of this tale unfold in settings as far flung as the Imperial court, the shimmering Pure Flower Hot Springs pleasure resort, the windswept, desolate north, the fever-infested prison island of Hainan, and finally, the piney mountains of far western Szechuan. Barbarians frolic with fine court ladies, betrayals great and small are hatched, eunuchs, poets, courtesans and warriors collude. Weaving in and out around the characters and events from beginning to end is a “shape-changing,” highly-sexed witch (or perhaps just a crazy old woman), who represents the legendary immortal of Taoist lore. No story of the T'ang would be complete without this uncanny element, which gives the tale a richly fraught extra dimension and removes it far from the ordinary adventure-saga.
"Dense and entertaining...We are plunged into the beautiful but eerie world of the T'ang Court. A fine excursion to a distant time, place and mindset."
"Glamorous actors in a different kind of dynasty...like an enormous, powerful spell. Elegant, convincing..."
"A world of wealth, uninhibited sensuality and violence is lavishly and unforgettably recreated in THE COURT OF THE LION."
—BOOKS TODAY (London)
About the Authors:
Eleanor Cooney is the author of DEATH IN SLOW MOTION (HarperCollins 2004, Kindle edition 2013). She recently completed a dark-but-humorous literary “noir” thriller set in Wisconsin in the present and in the 1890s.
Daniel Altieri holds degrees in Oriental language and civilization from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania. His short stories and full-length fiction reflect the American experience, including a newly-completed novel about growing up in the iconic 1950s.
Set in eighth century China during the T'ang dynasty, this massive historical novel quickly captures the imagination while its accuracy of detail rewards readers interested in the period. In the glittering court of Emperor Minghuang, the death of the young crown prince sets off whispers of murder. On the heels of this tragedy, Minghuang is forced to banish his beloved empress for the crime of dabbling in witchcraft. While the emperor slips into a terrible depression, his sly, deceitful chief minister gathers power. Kao Li-Shih, the sharp-witted chief eunuch, reawakens Minghuang by sending him the beauteous Precious Consort, but love only causes China's ruler to further neglect his duties. Precious Consort's sisters, the Yangs, are a delicious parody of the three graces as they glide through the palace with their bitchy, amusing chatter hiding swift intelligence. As a spirit of decadence takes hold in the court, the Yangs mistakenly champion the barbarian general An Lu-Shan, a laughing trickster who eventually moves to crush the T'ang dynasty despite all that Kao Li-Shih does to stop him. Vivid characters and alluring descriptions make this first novel by a gifted team a triumphant mix of fact and fiction.