My Last Empress
Samuel Pickens is a precocious young man at the beginning of this novel that spans life in Connecticut and China in the late 19th century. When his first love and then his wife die, he suddenly sees dead people everywhere. Has this tragedy opened his mind to another dimension where he truly sees ghosts who plan to impose good and evil on those who remain alive?
Pickens believes his mission is to travel to China, where he will work as a tutor to the emperor. The court of Chinese royalty mesmerizes Pickens and inadvertently places him in dangerous situations. Q, the emperor’s wife, looks exactly like Pickens’s first love, acting like a teasing dervish. She is the “trickster” of classical Chinese literature, one who exposes evil, a technique that enhances a relatively simple plot — a type of magical realism but more in the tradition of the “haunting but wise ghost” so well described by renowned Chinese author Maxine Hong Kingston.
Placing Pickens in grave danger, Empress Q next seeks to discover who her “real” father is. To do this, she must outwit the machinations of the eunuchs, warlords, and concubines who jealously despise Pickens for being Q’s “favorite” and the newly appointed chief financial examiner for the empire. While royalty wines, dines, and plays all day, the coffers are bare. It’s Pickens’s job to expose and eliminate the corruption. The solution will be surprising and costly to all.
My Last Empress is a superb creation of historical fiction in the finest tradition of classical Chinese literature and a thriller on many levels.