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Jade Dragon Mountain    by Elsa Hart order for
Jade Dragon Mountain
by Elsa Hart
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

In 18th-century China, the scholar Li Du, exiled from Beijing, visits a cousin in Yunnan Province. His cousin Tulishen, a weak magistrate governing this far outpost of the empire, is unable to mask his hostility toward his more clever cousin. The entire region is occupied with the visit of the emperor, who has come to create an eclipse of the sun.

In reality the emperor follows the astronomical calculations of the Jesuits, who have quietly pursued their studies in China while the Dominicans wish they had as much sway. At the same time the English East India Company has set its sights on becoming a trade partner with this reclusive but extraordinarily wealthy country.

Against this background, Li Du is able to solve an embarrassing murder and an attempt against the life of the Emperor. The novel is wonderfully plotted - not a single detail is without significance, and by the end it is not only the main plot, but also several subplots that are resolved. Author Hart has her characters well in hand, and even though we view them only through Li Du's eyes, we see into their souls.

We also get a very good sense of life at that time, especially China's relations with the surrounding countries, its own minorities and recent history. The excitement that a far-off outpost of a vast empire had in anticipation of their emperor making a personal visit is well explored, and it is fun to follow Li Du's exchanges with Tulishen, who is determined, come what may, to be the perfect host to the emperor.

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