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The Secrets of Jin-Shei    by Alma Alexander Amazon.com order for
Secrets of Jin-Shei
by Alma Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Set in a mythical city, Syai, in ancient China, The Secrets of Jin-Shei is a light yet lengthy piece of historical fiction. In medieval China's time of splendor, rituals and elegance, a group of young women form a special bond known as 'Jin-Shei', a secret sisterhood shared by Chinese women that is complete with its own special, coded language. Jin-Shei sisters can come from all levels of society from lowly workers to Chinese royalty which is exactly what happens in this novel of secret ties of female friendship.

Eight girls form a Jin-Shei sisterhood and pledge lifelong loyalty to each other. Tai, a poet with a promise to a dying girl; Khailin, a scholar who takes herself into a dark, secretive world in her quest for knowledge; Nhia, the sage with the power to save Khailin; Xaforn, an orphaned warrior adopted by the Imperial Guard; Qiaan, a daughter of a captain of the Imperial Guard; Tammary, a gypsy with a secret lineage that threatens the royal court; Yuet, the empress's confidante; and Liudan, the powerful empress. All from different backgrounds, each young woman is special in her own way and individually contributes to the Jin-Shei sisterhood as the novel spans their lives and their connection from birth to death.

This entertaining story takes on epic proportions as it explores conflict, tragedy, growth, love and challenge during the lives of these young women. Though I found the book a bit too long, the author delivers enjoyable and rich descriptions of a powerful female culture absent in China today, along with the intricate, daily life and rituals of an ancient Chinese civilization. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy The Secrets of Jin-Shei, as will many who read women's fiction and literary fiction.

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