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A good sequel - but not as good as it could have been
on 16 November 2006
This novel is the sequel to the utterly wonderful 'The Secrets of Jin-Shei' (which has to be read first - otherwise parts of this book won't make much sense). It is a very different book, however, as it takes place many years later, during the Communist revolution.
This novel captures the horror of the revolution, and what the destruction of history really meant. The sadness of losing traditions and buildings that had lasted for many thousands of years is perfectly evoked, as is the climate of fear that sprung up, where even your own family might be the enemy. The fanaticism that gripped many young people is also made frighteningly real.
Taken as a stand alone novel, this is an excellent book, but it is so closely linked with 'The Secrets of Jin-shei' that the relationship between the two novels is vital. It is in this that I felt the book was a little lacking. The link feels a bit shoehorned in, through dreams and visions that don't really ring true, and the fact that Amais is a many times descendant of Tai.
I can't help but feel that this book would have been better if it had focused less on this. There are so many interesting characters and relationships in this book, which I felt were not properly explored, due to the need to focus on Amais and her quest for Jin-Shei. Also, I found the fact that much of Amais's actions were dictated by mystical forces a bit irritating - there appeared to be no genuine motivation for some of the things she did, and that made her less interesting as a character.
On the whole, it is easy to criticise this book while comparing it to the sublime 'The Secrets of Jin-Shei' - a comparison that has to be made, as the book itself invites it. It is not as memorable or as moving, which is a shame because it feels like it could have been. However, when compared to most other books it is exceptionaly well written and tells an interesting story. I look forward to reading a lot more of the author's work in the future.