Judge Dee Renjie, Empress Wu’s newly appointed Imperial Circuit Supervisor for the Tang Empire, is visiting provinces surrounding the grand capital of Chang’an. One night a knife is thrown through his window with a cryptic note attached: ‘A high-flying dragon will have something to regret!’
Minutes after the ominous warning appears, Judge Dee is approached by an emissary of Internal Minister Wu, Empress Wu’s nephew. Minister Wu wants Judge Dee to investigate a high-profile murder supposedly committed by the well-known poetess and courtesan, Xuanji, who locals believe is possessed by the spirit of a black fox.
Why is Minister Wu interested in Xuanji? Despite Xuanji confessing to the murder, is there more to the case than first appears? With the mysterious warning and a fierce power struggle playing out at the imperial court, Judge Dee knows he must tread carefully . . .
A Note From the Publisher
Average rating from 15 members
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Severn House for an advanced copy of this new mystery.
Words can have meanings far beyond their appearance on paper. A simple poem to one could be the stirring words for a revolutionary, or a admittance of love to a soul mate. Words and poets are only part of the problems that the legendary Judge Dee Renjie finds himself trying to interpret in the mystery The Shadow of the Empire written by Qiu Xiaolong.
Many books, plays, movies and tv shows have been based on Judge Dee, with the most familiar to western audiences the long running series written by Robert van Gulik, which i read years ago. The Judge who was real bureaucrat, find himself tasked by the Internal Minister to oversee the the murder investigation by a popular female poet, who admits her crime, but the case seems to have more questions left than answers. Aided by his assistant Yang, a great character, Judge Dee begins an inquiry that soon leads to more bodies and greater pressures.
The story is not only interesting but since the story is based on the real case of a murderous poet, the story contains poems from the murder suspect, which are quite good. The translations might be iffy, but they really are quite beautiful. The characters, especially Judge Dee's aide Yang, who I enjoyed quite a bit. A good Archie Goodwin, which is the highest praise I can give in a mystery. I did think the setting was not truly seventh century China. The characters seemed a little too modern, and I didn't realy get a feeling for the era. That however is minor quibble.
I enjoyed the story, the first I have read by Qiu Xiaolong, but not the last. I do hope this is the start of a series, I understand this is a companion piece to another series the author writes, one that I will have to check out. A very good mystery, with beautiful poetry. A reader can't ask for more.
Under instructions of Empress Wu, Judge Dee Renijee is posted outside of Chan’an, the grand capital of the Tang empire. Disheartened by what he perceives to be a demotion on leaving, Dee is instructed by the Internal Minister to investigate a murder supposedly committed by a young, gifted poetess Xuanji.
Celebrated in high society circles of the Tang dynasty she is accused of murdering her maid. Further, locals believe she is possessed by the spirit of a ‘black fox’.
With the assistance of his loyal assistant Yang, Dee sets about carrying out a murder investigation, although as an admirer of Xuanji’ poetry, it seems highly improbable to him that the talented poetess could have perpetrated such a crime.
The Shadow of the Empire, is part of a series of novels written by the author Qiu Xiaolong and pay homage to the legendary Judge Dee Renijee. The story is based on a real Tang dynasty murder case, which involved a beautiful, talented poetess Yu Xuanji (844-871). The story of the murder case had been made into movies and a TV series in China and into a book by Robert Van Gulik, Poets and Murder. Qiu Xiaolong makes a mention of this in the postscript and describes key differences between his and Van Gulik’s novel.
In The Shadow of the Empire, the poetess becomes a central character in the story and her imprisonment and trial are the talk of the empire. The case becomes symbolic of the moral decline of the Tang empire, which naturally draws concern from Empress Wu. Dee is expected to ensure stability of the empire, which in his strict adherence to Confucian ideals becomes his main prerogative. Whilst he agrees to investigate the number-one poetess of the Tang empire, the investigation presents a personal challenge for him. He has already read quite a few Xuanji’s poems and is an admirer of her classic works. He had even memorised her poetry;
‘The verdant trees stretching long a
long the desolate bank, a tower
dissolving into the faint mist,
petals falling, falling over an angler,
with the reflection rippling
on the autumn water,
the old tree’s root turning
into a secluded fish-hiding spot,
and the twigs low-hanging,
tying a sampan –
I’m startled out of a dream:
The night of roaring wind and rain
Is infused with my new worries’.
Tang poetry features throughout the novel and the reader gains an appreciation of poetry from a phase in Chinese history in which both poetry and poets were highly regarded. The author also offers insight into Confucian ideals, traditions and society of the time which help explain misogynistic descriptions of Xuanji- that may be discomforting for readers.
Dee’s is portrayed initially as detached scholarly retired figure more interested in Xuanji’s poetry than carrying out the investigation. This changes as the story reaches its climax and Judge Dee proves himself to be meticulous with the facts of the investigation. His young assistant Yang plays an important role, doubling up as shrewd and diligent investigator as well as a loyal assistant. Xuanji is perhaps the most intriguing, she seems to be an innocent victim of a high stakes game or does she?
As the story progresses it becomes a fast-paced thriller, meandering through Xuanji’s close circle of acquaintances some of whom meet untimely deaths in mysterious circumstances. At times, the death trail leads to close to Dee for comfort as he continues to collect clues and seek answers to a slowly built scene of events.
Although there are some good descriptions, the novel lacks detailed descriptions of setting and scenery of seventh century China. The dialogue also feels too contemporary at some instances, for my liking. However, regardless of this the novel is an enjoyable crime novel and does provide fascinating insight into the society and culture of seventh century China. Readers who like crime novels would enjoy reading this.
An exquisite admixture of unbridled passion, murderous fury, blind political ambition and sublime poetry deliciously coalesce in a beautiful but ultimately sad tale set in Ancient China during the tumultuous years of the Tang Dynasty.
As a beautiful courtesan and talented poetress stands accused of beating her maid servant to death, a wise and perspicacious imperial officer tries to untangle the many threads that may have some rather unsavory political ramifications......
My first (and probably not my last) encounter with this wonderful Chinese writer who manages with brio to offer us a compelling and well crafted whodunit in the midst of a vast and colorful historical tapestry blessed with a delightful cast of perfectly drawn characters who bravely and courageously try to navigate the dark and treacherous waters surrounding the Imperial throne....
A marvellous blend of murder mystery, political shenanigans and poetic emotions.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Canongate/Severn House for this terrific ARC
When I saw a new Judge Dee story couldn't help doing a happy dance and reading it as fast as I could.
I was a fan of Robert Van Gulik stories and I think this one is even better as there're some elements that are part of the Chinese culture and I never met them before.
Even if the Judge Dee stories were always a mix of historical facts and fiction the historical background play an important role in this. I learned something new about ancient Chinese poetry and I appreciated it.
I appreciated the realism of the descriptions and the misogyny of the classic Confucianism.
I hope to read other stories in this series as this one was gripping, complex and riveting.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
I loved the Judge Dee books by Robert Gulik, and found this book a great read. The book takes place during the Tang Dynasty in China. Judge Dee was a real person, both a detective and statesman, and the novel is based on a real case in the 9th century. However, the story is fiction. In the story, Empress Wu has sent Dee out of the imperial city. On the way he gets a warning note delivered on a knife. and then a messenger comes from Internal Minister Wu with a report on a murder by famous poetess Xuanji of her maid. He asks Dee to look into it. Xuanji is also a real historical woman who wrote excellent poetry and was also a courtesan. Although Xuanji has confessed to the murder (after being beaten in the court), the case still seems to be under deliberation.
Dee and his aide, Yang, go to the Dingguo Temple on the way to Dee's new assignment. Xuanji is in prison in the village, and she had lived in the nearby nunnery. Her lover. Wei, lives in a small cabin near the nunnery. Yang checks out Wei, while Judge Dee visits her flower friend in the village and finds out Xuanji entertained a special visitor on the last night before the body was found. She had also written a very special poem which she wanted printed with only two copies. Yang finds out that the rumor of black fox spirits was Yang going to the nunnery during the night in a black fox costume. He sees Wei going into the nunnery with a cloth bag which is even fuller when he exits and heads for the village.
There are two more deaths showing that Dee and Yang are learning more about what really happened. This is a very well written story, with mystery, history, and beautiful poetry.
A breath of fresh air; a book that transports readers to the Tang Dynasty, a rural China filled with superstition, religious faith and a sense of justice. In magical locations awash with philosophy, political intrigue and poetry.
In addition it is an attempt to reflect the contrast between political power and human rights which still troubles the Chinese empire today.
Although set in an historical timeframe, and using poetry of its day there is a desire of the author to be faithful to the age while bringing a modern feel to conversations and exchanges between characters. This makes the writing accessible and natural to our modern ear, without betraying the sense of period or place.
Set in a time of political struggle, faithful officials like Judge Dee understand the precarious path they tread and the pitfalls to both career and life expectancy, unwise counsel or taking sides could bring.
Judge Dee is offered an assignment to resolve a notorious case of a courtesan poet who languishes in prison for the murder of her maidservant. Her explanation of events provide little evidence of motive, or how the crime was managed.These outstanding issues leave the court unable to pass sentence as nothing the prisoner confesses to, makes sense.
A really clever crime mystery; is the condemned woman actually guilty; who are the higher voices seeking a swift conclusion to the case? Does the status of the perpetrator, a lower class woman with influential friends have implications to threaten the state?
Judge Dee must approach the case tangentially, low key, almost secretly. His role is unofficial but the more he learns a deeper conspiracy reveals itself. It demands great insight, wisdom and a grasp of poetry.
I really enjoyed this book. It took me away into another world which the author made real and meaningful. It is a puzzling case which is addressed with means and diligence a modern piece couldn’t offer. It is full of passion and drama. There remains a sense of danger and threat which lasts to the final page.
From The Historical Novels Review, February 2022:
Judge Dee Renjie is not a judge, but the people have bestowed this title upon him, an official with many functions. During the 7th century, Empress Wu sits as ruler. She is sending Judge Dee away from the capital city of Chang’an to a new post in the provinces. He is getting caught up in the political unrest, and the Empress is displeased with him over his Confucian stance on the future transition of power.
While staying at a roadside hostel, a mysterious note is delivered via a gemstone-studded knife embedded in the pillar beside him. Then follows a messenger knocking on the door with a request from Minister Wu for Judge Dee to look into a high-profile murder. The accused is a beloved and gifted poetess, Xuanji, and this sensational murder of her maid and burial in a shallow grave is incongruous with the refined, diminutive poetess. Unsure of the Minister’s motive, he makes a gesture at a few inquiries before he continues on his travels, but his curiosity grows as strange events and questions with no answers arise.
This book is the first in the Judge Dee series and based on a true crime that took place during the Tang Dynasty. Yang, Judge Dee’s devoted assistant, is dogged in his tasks of seeking answers. The wise, analytical Judge Dee outwardly maintains his quiet composure around the frightened, nervous Yang, making each man a complement to the other. Both Judge Dee and Yang are an endearing duo for this delightful series.
Tang period Murder mystery!
Judge Dee is called upon by Emperoress Wu to unofficially investigate the incarceration and upcoming execution of renowned poetess Xuanji.
This is indeed a time when the phrase, “Off with her head!” Is no mean threat. Talk about down the rabbit hole for Dee!
A lively return to one of my favorite historical Chinese detectives, the Honorable Judge Dee, “Dee Renjie, the newly appointed Imperial Circuit Supervisor of the Tang Empire.”
Of course things are not simple. Powerful people are paying close attention to this case and it looks like Dee is being sandwiched in the middle.
A fan of Robert van Gulik‘s Judge Dee tales, I found Qiu Xiaolon’s contribution (author of Inspector Chen works) well worth the read.
…And Xuanji’s poetry! Brilliant!
A Severn House ARC via NetGalley
Please note: Quotes taken from an advanced reading copy maybe subject to change
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
A novel at the crossroads of history and mystery based on a real Tang Dynasty murder case circa 870 AD.
The Shadow of the Empire revolves around Tang Dynasty government official Judge Dee. Dee is dispatched to find evidence necessary to convict an accused killer, Yu Xuanji, who is an alluring courtesan and poet. The story takes place a short distance from present-day Xi'an, once called Chang'an, which was, for centuries, the capital of China. Author Qiu Xiaolong — born in China but living in the US since 1988 — is known for the popular Detective Chen mystery series set in contemporary Shanghai; this is his first plunge into a historic era. While Judge Dee and Yu Xuanji are both based on real people, Qiu fictionalizes many details of the case, and leaves much for readers to discover between the lines. This novel includes an informative author's postscript for historical context and an appendix of translated poetry from the era.
I requested this for background reading for a review we ran on BookBrowse. Our reviewer rated the book 4-stars -- see link to review. Personally, it was much grittier than I expected -- so, while it was interesting reading, it was far from the pleasant mystery-detective diversion that I was anticipating.