I have been looking for a novelization about Empress Wu Zetian for a while. I gave Empress by Shan Sa a try, but it was god-awful. So I was very excited to come across The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel.
There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power
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.
In the breakthrough first volume in the Empress of Bright Moon duology, Weina Dai Randel paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.
How gorgeous is that cover? Honestly, even if the book hadn’t been about Wu Zetian, I would have picked up this book based on the cover alone.
But thankfully the book is also very good. I really enjoyed the story that Randel told here. She did a great job of creating the character of Wu Zetian, especially the young woman we don’t really know much about. Wu is often portrayed as a villainess in history, but here, she is a sympathetic protagonist. Randel did a great job humanizing the character of Wu.
She also did a good job of taking us inside Tang Dynasty China, an era I don’t know a lot about (I usually focus on Qing Dynasty China). While this is a work of fiction, it is clear a lot of research went into her descriptions and it was interesting to see what life was like inside the palace at that time.
Unfortunately, the book is part of a two-book set, and I haven’t read the second one yet. I’m dying to know what happens from Wu’s point of view! I mean, I know from history the basic outline of events, but reading about this from a first person perspective will be very interesting. My suspicion is that Randel actually wrote one book, but it was too long so the publisher divided it into two. I really can’t wait to get my hands on the second half!
Have you read The Moon in the Palace? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!