The Moon in the Palace

Written by Weina Dai Randel
Review by Kate Braithwaite

When Mei is twelve years old, her father dies suddenly, leaving his family unprotected. Their only hope is that Mei, as she has been prepared to do, will still be accepted as a concubine for Emperor Taizong. But the position is a challenging one, and she soon finds that the world of the Chinese imperial court is full of intrigue and in-fighting. Mei, destined to become Empress Consort Wu – the only female emperor of China, from 684 to 705 AD – must find her own path to power and security, even if she risks her own chance of happiness in love to do so.

This is a very successful and transporting novel that beautifully captures the sounds, smells and social mores of 7th-century China. Mei is a strong character: literate and quick-thinking – more familiar with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War than with the art of embroidery – and the story of her path to power makes for a fascinating read. That’s because Mei is only one of a cast of strong females struggling for supremacy in the imperial palace. Mei must decide who to trust as the health of Emperor Taizong declines and a power struggle rages within his extended family. This is the first book in the Empress of Bright Moon duology, and the story moves quickly. From the emperor’s wardrobe rooms to the houses of silkworms and the imperial polo fields, the past is vividly brought to life. Looking forward to the sequel.