Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme


It is the 15th Century. At the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, three women's path will cross.  And of their journey, a tale will be born. An imperial concubine, a Persian traveler, and a mysterious storyteller.  Three women: One story.

This is BEIJING. A city seething with mystery and royal intrigue.  Once a palace orphan, the wilful Min Li has only ever sought to please, even if that means pleasing Emperor Zhu Di.  Now a powerful concubine, Min Li unearths a terrible secret concealed within the walls of Beijing's Imperial city. Driven to despair, she seeks help from her lover, Admiral Zheng He. But this will spark a chain of events that even sets Beijing's palace on fire. Min Li's fate is sealed but her true enemy is not who she thinks.

The Ming Storytellers is a historical tale of 15th century China that sweeps across the palaces of Nanjing and Beijing into the mountainous villages of Yunnan, where a mysterious shaman holds the key to a woman's destiny.

Across the oceans, from the bustling bazaars of Southern India to the lush shores of Zanzibar, nothing is quite what it seems.

For the eyes and ears of the Ming Emperor are ever near.

Createspace | January 1, 2013 | 634 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Set in 15th century China in the early days of the Ming Dynasty, The Ming Storytellers is a beautifully rendered tale of love and loss, hope and despair.  While this novel features the stories of three incredible woman -- Min Li, an imperial concubine, Shahrzad, a Persian traveller, and Jun, a seamstress and storyteller -- it is Min Li who features most prominently and is the heart of this novel.  But this is also a novel of Admiral Zheng He, one of China's greatest explorers.   

Having little knowledge of Chinese imperial history prior to reading this book, I was fascinated by the history imparted throughout the story.  Not only does The Ming Storytellers include key historical events such as the Ming Fleet's Sixth Expedition, but it also clearly conveys the politics, and ways of life and customs of the era.  One of this novel's greatest strengths is Rahme's ability to seamlessly weave this history into the fabric of her narrative.  As a result, even though there is a tremendous amount of historical detail found in this novel, it never feels as if it has just been dumped into the text.  I particularly enjoyed learning about life within the Imperial Palace, which had a complex, hierarchical administration run by eunuchs, as well as of the Ming Fleet's expedition across the Indian Ocean. 

Even though The Ming Storytellers is well over 600 pages, the book doesn't feel long.  The story moves along quickly, and there are never any lulls.  The narrative's focus shifts back and forth between the various principal characters, which I found helped to maintain my interest.  Rahme's prose is lovely, and her descriptions eloquent, helping to create a vivid sense of place.  While there are times when the reader might wonder how all the various story lines connect, Rahme brings them all together nicely in the end.  

While I enjoyed The Ming Storytellers immensely, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that it contains some minor editorial and formatting issues -- at least my e-copy does.  While not significant enough to take anything away from the story itself, they are noticeable.  Those who frequently read electronic advance copies, which I've found often have similar issues, probably won't be all that bothered by this.  But readers used to perfectly formatted e-books might be a little put off, at least initially.   I hope readers don't let these minor issues put them off the book as I think The Ming Storytellers is a historical novel well worth reading. 

Highly recommended to historical fiction fans interested in learning more about China during the Ming Dynasty. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

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