Jade Dragon Mountain
by Elsa Hart
Jade Dragon Mountain is a historical detective novel where in an ex-Imperial Librarian, banished due to association with a traitorous friend, wonders into an outpost city where his cousin is the magistrate– and the Emperor coincidentally is coming to announce a solar eclipse.
One of the Emperor’s Jesuit astronomers is found dead, and Li Du must investigate before the Emperor comes.
What follows is an interesting immersion into the politics of Ming vs. Qing, the role European religious orders played in the Manchu dynasty, astronomy of that time, and fascination with tea and botany, and story telling at several story levels.
It reads to a laymen like myself, as well researched and detailed. Li Du is almost entirely focused on his investigation and impressions of people in the magistrate’s orbit, we get almost nothing about who he was in his prior life or how his travels/exile has changed him. I wanted a bit more of Li Du to shine through 🙂 Since Li Du befriends a foreign professional story teller, we get a lot of folk tales that, in my opinion, added some flavor to the text but sometimes went on too long. There are some pleasing cultural clash observations on the foreigners’ actions and how they don’t reflect face or manners, and the descriptions of the magistrate’s palace and preparations for the Emperor sumptuous and quite clever.
I would definitely continue on with Li Du if he encounters other dead bodies in his orbit for the historical details alone. (the mystery isn’t too tricky with the limited cast of characters available for suspicion). If you enjoyed Laura Joh Rowland’s Detective Sano Ichiro series in Feudal Japan, you’ll probably like this, too.