The island of Taishu is at the mercy of the dragon and the goddess, caught between two immortals and their battles. While the emperor fights to regain his country, it is left to Old Yen the fisherman to bargain with the gods and bring safety to his family and island. The pregnancy of Mei Feng has caused a stir among the rebels, fearful that an heir would make their plot to overthrow the emperor fail and treachery is everywhere Mei Feng looks. Meanwhile, Tien, the young doctor, is searching through a vast library in Santung Palace, hoping to find a way to chain the dragon again and free Han, the boy she loves but betrayed for the good of her people. Others are interested in her findings and the power to be gained by the one who can say they subdued the dragon may just tip the balance of the war.
‘Hidden Cities’ is the final instalment in Daniel Fox’s ‘Moshui: Books Of Stone And Water’ trilogy. It brings this grand Chinese fantasy tale to a strange kind of conclusion, leaving many loose ends and points for the reader to consider. While I think that Fox could easily have added another book or two to the series, I’m actually quite pleased that not everything was resolved and readers are given a chance to exercise their imaginations over what happens next.
The story follows directly on from the previous two books, ‘Dragon In Chains’ and ‘Jade Man’s Skin’ and deals with the uneasy situation on the island of Taishu, cut off from the mainland by the dragon’s wrath. Political intrigue abounds with plots inside the emperor’s staff as well as from the rebels across the straits. There are enough battles and action scenes to keep things moving on quickly, but plenty of human emotion and raw wonder to maintain the magical air of the setting and story. The jade tiger and the dragon in particular are awe-inspiring. I wouldn’t like to run into either of them on an isolated mountain top!
Familiar characters return from the previous two books and a few new ones are developed to keep things fresh. Yet even the returning characters are interesting as many of them undergo big changes following earlier events. Yu Shan is now only concerned with the horrifically injured Siew Ren, leaving Jiao in a rebellious freefall as she tries to come to terms with losing him. Mei Feng’s pregnancy sees everything change for her and the emperor whose heir she carries. Han, bound to the dragon in ways he cannot understand, perhaps has the most drastic changes as he seems to develop a fondness for the dragon. As these two find companionship and an increasingly easy truce, Han seems much more peaceful even without the girl he longs for. They are all characters that you want to follow, each with their own flaws and virtues.
As a series, this has provided hours of escapism and entertainment and, as the concluding episode, ‘Hidden Cities’ certainly didn’t disappoint. The setting was as detailed as I’ve come to expect from Fox and the characters were engaging and compellingly real. In fact, the only disappointment is that there isn’t more set in this world. The ancient China setting works beautifully for fantasy and I’d pick up another of Fox’s books without hesitation.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 415 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50303-9)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com