Third in the Moshui fantasy series based on myths and legends of ancient China about the healing powers and strength of jade. About dragons and sea goddesses.
The dragon has escaped her imprisonment under the sea and unleashed typhoons upon the lands. The storm has destroyed Tunghai Wang’s chance at certain victory to capture Santung while saving the boy emperor from defeat. The goddess’ children have provided safe passage for Chien Hua, Man of Jade, and his pregnant concubine, Mei Feng, to escape back across the strait to his own city, Taishu. With the opportunity to rid themselves of the traitor, Ping Wen, whom the emperor sends back to Santung to govern and defend the indefensible.
For the emperor does not leave any boat that will allow Ping Wen back across the sea. With the dragon in the sky, Tunghai Wang cannot cross either so both traitors’ efforts bow down to finding a way. Others of the emperor’s party head into the mountains. Home. Home where the jade is mined. Where the jade will help them heal from the hurts of war. Yu Shan particularly hopes that the jade will help heal the woman he loves. For whom he left Jiao. A Jiao who follows them into the mountains only to slay a jade tiger and adopt its kit after skinning its mother.
A fraudulent doctor, Biao has scammed his way through life and has tumbled onto the tiger skin Jiao leaves behind. His use of it spreads through the land—aided by the gossip Biao spreads himself. When Mei Feng begins to lose her child, the empress sends for Biao and his tiger skin to save her.
Then there’s Ma Lin who guards the goddess’ temple and whose daughters have been given to the goddess. Only soldiers keep taking the girls and bringing them back. Then there’s young Han, the dragon’s boy. He interprets her thoughts to people. Tien is Han’s friend and she has medical knowledge which she places at anyone’s behest. Tien does not care about sides but about her patients. And the dragon. Refusing to accompany Mei Feng across the sea to Taishu, Tien remains behind to care for people and to explore the palace library for any knowledge of the dragon.
Old Yen, Mei Feng’s grandfather and a fishing master, has become the fisherman the emperor goes to for braving the watery crossing. In this confidence, Old Yen finds the courage to confront the dragon asking for leeway for the fishermen to continue to fish the sea to provide food for the people.
The dragon’s success with the people of Taishu leads her to believe she can find the same accommodation with Santung but she reckons without thought of men’s greed and ambition.
Reading the first half was so difficult and confusing, I almost didn’t finish Hidden Cities. There is so much going on with so many referrals to previous events. Bits and pieces that somehow draw together. Eventually.
Fascinating bit about the evolution of flaming bombs and throwing machines. To be honest, it was probably my favorite teeny part. I have inwardly moaned and complained as I’ve read other stories in series about how repetitive the author is in re-informing me of events that have occurred in previous stories. I won’t do that again. Fox writes this story as though we have been with him from the beginning and it has contributed to my confusion. I seriously and strongly suggest you read the books in order to understand what is happening.
As I write this, I see a pattern of tiny tales woven together into one—a whole lot of little bits. I suspect Fox has woven many myths together to form this story. I must confess I don’t think he’s done a very good job of it. His writing is rather fascinating. Sometimes confusing. Sometimes Fox simply uses a phrase unexpectedly. Sometimes disjointed. Sometimes turning it back on itself. It makes for interesting reading but not enough that I want to subject myself to the other stories in this series.
The cover is certainly appropriate although there is some cover artist license. A typhoon-whipped wave towering over a tiny sailing junk with a sea goddess forming up out of the wave. Menacing with a hint of a typical Chinese-style mountain rising out of the mist in the background. I would have thought a dragon rising menacingly out of the water would have been more likely than Old Yen’s goddess since she is supposed to be his protector and the dragon the enemy.
Please, if you read this, start with the very first book, Dragon in Chains. It will be so much less confusing…