I am delighted to share my review today for The Shadow of the Empire by Qiu Xiaolong. Years ago I enjoyed reading the Judge Dee series by Robert Van Gulik, so when I saw this title from Severn House on NetGalley I was curious.
The legendary Judge Dee Renjie investigates a high-profile murder case in this intriguing companion novel to Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder set in seventh-century China.
Judge Dee Renjie, Empress Wu’s newly appointed Imperial Circuit Supervisor for the Tang Empire, is visiting provinces surrounding the grand capital of Chang’an. One night a knife is thrown through his window with a cryptic note attached: ‘A high-flying dragon will have something to regret!’
Minutes after the ominous warning appears Judge Dee is approached by an emissary of Internal Minister Wu, Empress Wu’s nephew. Minister Wu wants Judge Dee to investigate a high-profile murder supposedly committed by the well-known poetess and courtesan, Xuanji, who locals believe is possessed by the spirit of a black fox.
Why is Minister Wu interested in Xuanji? Despite Xuanji confessing to the murder, is there more to the case than first appears? With the mysterious warning and a fierce power struggle playing out at the imperial court, Judge Dee knows he must tread carefully . . .
It was quite a few years ago when I came across Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mystery books featuring Judge Dee. So when I saw that Judge Dee had made another appearance I was definitely eager to read it.
This is set in 7th Century China, and Judge Dee is about to set off for a new post when he receives a file that concerns the murder of a handmaid. A renowned poetess is charged with her murder but things don’t quite add up as she has given two different accounts. Dee’s interest is piqued and so he starts to look into this case during a stopover in the area before continuing his journey.
The author has done a great job with this story, it is a slower-paced one which is fitting for the era it is set. What I really liked was how the author had mixed in tradition, custom, religion and beliefs as well as the way of life at the time.
Xuanji, the accused poetess is a courtesan and has written several poems that Dee has read. Using her poetry as a ruse to get to know more about Xuanji and hopefully gain more knowledge to find the truth. This story does mention some treatments of prisoners, court beatings and conditions. It is an insight into China in the 7th Century which works as part of the story as well as gives the reader more information about the case.
While this is a slower-paced story, it is still very engaging. The mystery of the case deepens as the story develops and becomes more intriguing as you realise that there higher powers at play in the background. I really enjoyed the style and the historical aspects of this story.
This is one for those who like historical fiction and mystery novels. I do like the more sedentary pace as it does fit so well with the setting. It is one I would happily recommend.
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