Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Embers of Heaven by Alma Alexander (Jin-Shei #2)

 Kindle edition

Genre: Chinese Historical fantasy, Drama, Family, Relationships, 
Pages: 480 pages
Formats: Paperback(2nd Hand perhaps as well) Kindle, Nook

Published:  July 1st 2009
 Harper Collins (first published January 1st 2006)
Original title: The Embers of Heaven
ISBN:  0007204078 (ISBN13: 9780007204076)
Edition language: English

Series: Jin-Shei #2
Purchase links: Amazon; Barnes & Noble

Amazon Book Blurb:
The International Bestselling Sequel to The Secrets of Jin-shei

Four hundred years after The Secrets of Jin-shei, the Syai Empire is on the brink of civil war. A new voice preaching equality promises hope for the downtrodden, but the ensuing people’s revolution brings terror, reeducation camps, and death to anyone embracing the old ways.

An outsider and a child of two worlds, Amais searches for the magical bond of jin-shei, the women’s oath, in her ancestral home of Syai, unaware that her quest will bring her to the very person who may destroy her and her family. And yet, she must face him, or all hope for Syai will be lost…

“Beautifully written, with rich characterisation and captivating originality, it quickly draws you in and is a real page-turner.” -- Glasgow Evening Times

“The Last Samurai has nothing on this complex adventure.” Belfast Telegraph

"A beautiful and magical tale of one girl's quest to restore the secret language of jin-shei and its customs to Syai four hundred years on from its peak. Amais finds her crusade swept up in a people's revolution which threatens her bid to restore the once powerful sisterhood. Richly layered with a strong sense of place and wonderfully written characters. Perfect if you enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha." --

This review is an addition to the GR book blurb.

Amais, a little girl, was torn between two families. On the one hand there was her maternal grandmother who tutored her in the ancient women's language, jin-ashu - the language of gentle things, of her royal ancestors, insisting on it being done. On the other hand there was Amais's dad, a commoner and fisherman, who taught her the secrets of the sea, introducing her to the dolphins in a cove - his secret place of rendezvous with these gentle creatures of the sea. But then he died.

Her mother decided to take her two daughters and go back to the land of her ancestors, Syai, amid a bitter battle between herself and her mother-in-law, Elena. Apart from this power struggle, both grandmothers staked their claims on the two granddaughters of which Amais was the oldest. Nika, the youngest, born the day her dad drowned in his fishing boat, was regarded as the incarnation of her dad, the son of Elena, and deepened the rift between the two grandmothers from different social classes. Nika had two names due to the grandmothers insisting on naming the child. For Elena she was Nika, and for Dan, Aylun. For Vian it became intolerable to be caught up in the middle with her two daughters.

For nine-year-old Amais the sea voyage between Elaas, her place of birth, and Syai, the place of her ancestors, will be the place where her past and future will be lost and born.

However, Amais would find a deeper mission by way of her dreams in which her ancestors would guide her to reach her real destiny. She inherited the ancient journals of an maternal ancestor which she promised to protect forever. It contained the secrets of a women-bond written in a language only the women could understand.

The second main character is Iloh - the peasant boy, who would achieve every dream he ever dreamed and much more. His past and his future were not the same thing and he did not care what was behind or what the consequences of today would be on tomorrow. Iloh's story is loosely (although historically quite accurate) based on the life of Mao Tse-tung, who was born on 26th December 1893, in a valley called Shaoshan, in the province of Hunan, in the heartland of China. This region was dotted with beautiful, ancient Buddhist temples. It was surrounded by forests where more than 300 species of trees grew in abundance, and was protected by the isolating hills. Although it is not mentioned in the book, these surroundings are accurately borrowed for this tale. It will become one of the main backgrounds in the book.

This is a historical fantasy, which is confusing in itself, since too much accurate historical facts form the background to the story. Taken as a historical fantasy it is a good book and very well written in beautiful prose. I was drawn into the story from round about page 90 and continued mesmerized for most of it. But since I read the books of Amy Tan, Wild Swans-Three Daughters of China, and Mao - The Unknown Story, I was able to recognize the historical facts offered in the fictional tale. I also read books before of Lisa See and Amy Tan, with which I compared this book and found The Embers of Heaven to be a successful assimilation of the two approaches. Amy Tan and Jung Chang dish out the hard 
cold facts on the one side, and Lisa See presents a much softer romantic coloring of the history and culture on the other. However, in certain respects this story was just too fantastical for my taste. I still cannot figure out why it was suggested as a historical fantasy. Historical fiction could have worked very well. However, it is always a risk to write about a country as a foreigner and bend the historical facts a bit to fit a plot. So it makes sense then to offer it as a fantasy.

The elements in the book blended well. The descriptions were breathtaking. The plot was convincing.

I really would love to rate it five stars, since so much research went into the book and it was very well written.

What I did not like: I would have loved to read more detail about the food that was eaten; the specific medicines used. For instance, during Amais's stay in the temple, she mentioned the vegetable stew. I was wondering: what exactly was in the stew, how was it prepared. In various places in the book I wanted more detail of the mundane things. To a certain extent this lack of small details rendered the story light-weight, although it is in reality a detailed, multifaceted book. The story was dragged out with too much information added through the dreams and thoughts that was included, and became a marathon reading to finish in the end. The drama got lost as a result in the middle part of the book, but not in the entire story. However, I needed a huge second breath to finish. It took a little bit of self-convincing to do so, which is a pity. It is a strong, powerful story and a book I will read again in ten years time. Yes, it is one of those stories that will stay with me for a very long time! It was a really relaxing, interesting, good read.


"I have a wonderful occupation; I dream for a living." Alma Alexander
----- ------ ----- ----- -----
Alma Alexander, the 'Duchess of Fantasy,' was born on the banks of an ancient river in a country which no longer exists. When she was ten, her family left Europe and moved to Africa. Since then she has lived in several countries on four continents and now lives in America with a husband she met on the Internet
She has written three million words in more than 20 books and one of her novels, "The Secrets of Jin-shei," has been published around the world in 14 languages. The heroine of her popular Young Adult Worldweavers series is as American as Harry Potter is British. The first book in another young adult series about a shape-shifting Were family will be published shortly.
When asked what she would be if she weren't a writer, she quotes Ursula LeGuin's answer to that question: "Dead."
Alma is a punaholic and a chronic worrier, one of those people who proves that real pessimists are truly born and not made. She is owned by a cat. She was born on the fifth day of July (the day after America), six years before man walked on the moon, which makes her a cancer according to the Western horoscope and a water rabbit according to the Chinese one.
(Information source: Amazon)