I read this book in French a couple years ago but re-read it in the English translation. It's a good historical fiction. It has all the main events of Wu Zetian's life, though an interesting interpretation on the reasons behind the events and whether she did or didn't do certain things.
I thought it was interesting that she came across as such a sexual creature, and that all the rumors about her sex life were confirmed (and more that were never said were admitted to) but that all the claims about ruthlessness that went along with her rise to power were denied. Personally I would have liked to see her a little more like Livia in I Claudius. But it was still fun for a novel, and nice to see her using translations of the actual edicts that Wu gave.
One thing I did find rather annoying was the translation of most (but not all) of the Chinese names. In particular I don't know why Chang An had to be referred to always as Long Peace whereas every other city was given the transliteration of its name. Similarly having Tai mountain instead of Mount Tai, when all the other mountains were referred to as Mout X seemed rather annoying.
Still a good read, not one to be taken as history, but still an enjoyable novel....Continua
I was very excited to see that someone had written a novel about Empress Wu, 武则天 my favourite Chinese historical figure. Empress Wu is the only woman to reign China as an Emperor ruling from 690-705AD as head of her own dynasty. It is my hope to be able to write a popular history book about Wu Zetian. Last year I wrote a very long essay about her use of religion in legitimising her rule and I was thrilled to see that all these events were mentioned in this novel!
This book was only the fourth book I've ever read in French. I think being do familiar with the historical subject really helped with my comprehension though there were several times I started to feel a bit lost. I decided I was getting enough to not need to get the English translation to read alongside however now I've finished I definitely want to read the English translation when it comes out in paperback this summer to grasp some of the finer details. Sa definitely seemed to have romanticised Wu a little, though as she was writing to combat the Confucian stereotypes given against her, and it was a novel and not history, I think she didn't take too many liberties. Empress Wu came across as a softer and gentler character, the secret police and the reign of terror were mentioned but not dwelt on. She didn't really appear to be as scheming and clever as I would have thought, and she seemed to have been genuinely in love with both the Emperor and her Buddhist architect. Of course this may have been because the book was written in the first person and the French came across as very beautiful, when I go back and read the English she may appear much more harsh!
The book seemed to have been very well researched. I was very excited to read passages that I recognised as being taken directly from recorded speech of Empress Wu in the historical sources. All the major events in her life seemed to be included. Events that are argued about in scholarly works were included, for example its not known if Wu entered a nunnery when she was a girl, or just after the death of her first husband the Emperor Tai Zong. Sa had Wu enter the Buddhist nunnery as a girl, and come across as a lifelong Buddhist, which I thought was a very interesting choice.
The book was very enjoyable, it was interesting to see the story played out in a new and different way. The one thing that I felt was lacking a little was the splendour of the Tang dynasty and the richness and diversity of the times. There was not the feeling of opulence of a very grand and diverse court. Again of course this could just have been my trouble with the French, but I felt that it was lacking a little. It was just so nice to read something new about Empress Wu and I can't wait to read it again in English. The more people know about this interesting piece of history the better!...Continua