Historical fiction lovers will delight in THE LACQUERED TALISMAN, which gives us a vividly-imagined, brilliantly-told story of a real-life emperor’s humble origins. The story is thoroughly researched and reasonably true to historical fact- the appendices at the back give the author Laurie Dennis’s sources and information about what is known and what is her own interpolation. However, this is no dry history lesson – it is an exciting tale, full of drama, heartbreak, love and loss, of a family determined to stick together and persevere but beset by tragedies that drive them apart, of a young man driven to carry his family’s name and dreams into a better future.
The world of late Yuan dynasty China comes to life in this book, with three-dimensional characters whose hearts, minds, and motivations feel real, driven by real concerns that are both recognizably familiar to us today and yet clearly set in their time and place. The hero, who bears several names but is primarily known in the book as Fortune Zhu, is a brave, generous young man appalled at the cruelty and injustice he sees everywhere around him. He is also a man who loves his family dearly and honors the sacrifices they made for him over the years, and who keeps the memory of those he lost, whether to death or separation, close to his heart in the form of the lacquered talisman of the book’s title, an inheritance from his maternal grandfather. It’s hard not to like him, or at least to respect the fierce determination, filial duty, and genuine love that drives him. He’s not the unflawed perfect hero of a fairy tale – his ferocious rage at the injustice he sees around him, as well as the duty he feels to his natal family and his sense of destiny, sometimes leads him to rash and impulsive action that puts himself and others in danger. However, that only makes him seem more human, more real, and ultimately more believable as a character and a historical figure.
The framing of the book gives the reader a context for the story, as an emperor considers the question of what he wants future generations to know about his history and how he came to power, of what he himself most values from his own life lessons. For the actual ascent to power, however, the reader will have to consult the promised sequel, as this one ends just as Fortune gives up the monastic life and enters the crucial rebellion that will end with the overthrow of one dynasty and the beginning of another. Still, THE LACQUERED TALISMAN is a very promising beginning to an eventful and exciting story that is all the better for being based in sound historical fact.
THE LACQUERED TALISMAN, the first part of a biography of the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, is a vivid and engaging portrayal of a young man determined to honor the love and sacrifices of his tragedy-stricken family, set against the beautifully-drawn backdrop of 14th century China.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader