The Moon in the Palace (Empress of Bright Moon #1) by Weina Dai Randel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Synopsis: A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget. Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.
This book was on my Intriguing Debuts list this year. In fact, it’s the only one I’ve read so far from the list. Oops. I’m so glad I read this one. I haven’t read many historical fiction novels, and certainly not many set in China. So that was already exciting to me. This novel managed to captivate me, educate me on a part of Chinese history and the customs, and get me attached to all the characters.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is set in China. This is the story of Mei, who will later be known as Empress Wu. I don’t see that as a spoiler, considering it’s both history, and mentioned on the cover of the book. It chronicles her life, which according to Wikipedia was February 17, 624 – December 16, 705. Yes, I used Wikipedia. I’m sorry, okay, I’m just really uneducated on Chinese history!
This book is the first in the duology (can I just say how underappreciated duologies are?). As this is the first, it follows Mei from the time she is a little girl to her time at the palace as a concubine for Emperor Taizong. Mei wants to help her family by becoming the Emperor’s Most Adored -which is of course the concubine he likes best. To get there though, Mei must go through schemes, plots and other concubines who want nothing more than be Most Adored.
I honestly learned so much about 7th century China while reading this book, yet it never felt like an information dump. As Mei lives at the palace, you learn a lot about the Emperor and the customs in the palace. For example, I never knew the concubine/consort system existed. There are 8 ranks of consorts, each with their duties and perks. Then there is the Empress and the Most Adored -who are not the same woman. There’s also a bedding rotation among the ranks.
I thought the setting of this book was really rich. I could imagine the palace, the world Mei lived in, the other women set on making her fail. I’m honestly so impressed with the setting of this book.
Like I said, I don’t know much about Chinese history. As it’s historical fiction, I’m assuming there are some fiction/inaccurate aspects present, but I wouldn’t know. If you are well aware of Chinese culture/history and have read this, feel free to educate me. 🙂
This book is definitely a character-driven book instead of a plot-driven one. It is after all, a chronicle of Mei’s life. I’ve always loved character-driven books because my attachment or interest in the characters usually defines how much I like the book. However, this does mean that you shouldn’t expect a fast-paced book. This definitely isn’t. While it isn’t fast-paced, I never felt bored or like I wasn’t making any progress in the book or story. Instead, I found myself reading huge chunks at a time, and thinking about it when I wasn’t reading.
I really loved following Mei on her journey. I was often surprised by her actions -or those of other characters– and even though I know how she will end up (seeing as she’s known as Empress Wu) I’m so intrigued to see how she’ll get there.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might know that I love stories with political intrigue, scheming and backstabbing. I always love trying to figure out who is on the “good” side. The fact that this is basically a contest of concubines to win the favor of a man who is revered, means that this novel has plenty of it.
Obviously, I need to talk about Mei. If there is one aspect of her person that stood out to me the most, it’s that she perseveres. She does not give up, no matter how bad her situation may suddenly have gotten. I love that she is such a smart woman, yet at times is still ruled by her heart and makes some less than perfect decisions. It makes her feel much more realistic to me. I truly admire her, as I think she is both brave and smart -a combination many people really need. Being brave without being smart will get you killed.
There were many other characters I loved. Like Pheasant -I think he’s my favorite. And the Noble Lady. And there are many characters I hate, like the Pure Lady and Rain. And then there are many characters I feel are really grey-area. I like them, yet I don’t? For example, Jewel. And Mei’s mother. I feel like it’s a strong aspect of this novel, that it has created characters I love, hate, pity, and so on. There are so many characters who induced emotions in me while reading, not just Mei.
I would highly recommend this book. It’s a great historical fiction novel. It’s set in China. It’s character-driven, and I care for both Mei and many side characters. And lastly, it’s part of a duology, and the second book has been released as well, which means that you won’t have to read a 6-book series OR wait for the next one!