As May brings the perfume of spring flowers, hinting of the warmth of summer to come, thoughts turn to vacation, rest and renewal. What better way than to be an armchair traveler than to delve into historical fiction that explores the exotic worlds of the Far East?
We begin in India with John Shor’s BENEATH A MARBLE SKY. A cultural icon, the Taj Mahal is instantly recognizable. Shorr’s novel gives us the story behind the building of this remarkable memorial by the emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, in honor of his beloved wife Mumatz Mahal. Told through the eyes of the couple’s eldest daughter, Princess Jahanara, we are transported to a vast empire constantly rent by rebellion and religious strife, a place of fabulous wealth and dire poverty. Trained in the techniques of strategy and influenced by her mother, the emperor’s favorite wife and confident, Jahanara takes over from that lady, advising her father, trying to protect her brother Dara, the rightful heir, from the machinations of his ambitious brother Aurangzeb, supervising the construction of her mother’s memorial—and falling in love with its architect, a man she can never marry. Shorr’s novel reveals the richness of the princess’s world, full of intrigue, danger, luxury, and forbidden love.
Amanda Roberts’ THREADS OF SILK carries us to another place of luxury and danger—the imperial court of China’s last Empress. Our narrator for this journey is Yaqian, a humble girl from Hunan Province whose family sells her to a master embroiderer. Luck and skill eventually earn Yaqian the position as palace embroiderer for Empress Cixi—and ultimately a place in the bed of the emperor. Courageous and tenacious, Yaqian must call upon all her skill and influence to help her son and grandson navigate the treacherous intrigues of the last years of the Qing Dynasty.
The scene shifts to 1930’s Malaysia in THE NIGHT TIGER by Jangsze Choo. Apprentice dressmaker Ji Lin moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s debts. When a dance partner leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, she finds her life intersects with that of a young houseboy. The dying wish of Ren’s former master is that the boy finds his finger, lost years previous in an accident, and bury it with his body so that his soul will not be condemned to roam the earth forever—and Renn has only 49 more days to complete the task. Eager for adventure, Ji Lin agrees to help. Their quest takes them to tropical plantations, through grim city hospitals and into landscapes of ghostly imagining. In the midst of increasing dangers, they encounter suspicious deaths and rumors of men turning into tigers in a land where ancient superstitions collide with modern sensibilities. Both adventure and coming-of-age story, THE NIGHT TIGER illumines the hearts of two unusual, enterprising and courageous protagonists.
We end with WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM by Mary Lynn Bracht, which begins in 1943 Korea. Though she has lived her whole life under Japanese occupation, Hana’s job as a haenyeo, a female sea diver, has given her a measure of freedom from their restrictive rule. But when she intervenes to save her sister from the attentions of a Japanese soldier, she is captured and transported to Manchuria to become a “comfort woman” in a military brothel. In counterpoint to Hana’s story of endurance, courage, and determination through this ordeal we have the 2011 story of Emi, the sister Hana gave herself up to save. Tormented by the knowledge of what her sister sacrificed for her, Emi struggles to find hope and redemption in the lives of her children and her now-independent country. But as Bracht’s gripping novel demonstrates, the power of a sister’s love can triumph over the evils of war.
Ready to abandon the workaday world for that comfortable chair on the terrace with a cool drink by your side and a fascinating novel in hand? With the Far East as your destination, any (or all) of these novels will make for an exciting vacation read!
About Julia Justiss
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
After twelve years as a vagabond Navy wife, an adventure that took her from Virginia Beach, VA, to Monterrey, CA, to Tunis, Tunisia to Oslo, Norway and back, Julia Justiss followed her husband to his family’s East Texas homeland. On a hill above a pond with a view of pasture land, they built an English Georgian-style home. Sitting at her desk there, if she ignores the summer heat, she can almost imagine herself in Jane Austen’s Regency England.
In between teaching high school French and making jaunts to visit her three children (a Seabee in Gulfport, MS, a clothing buyer in Houston and a mechanical engineer in Austin, TX) she pursues her first love—writing historical fiction.
Regency Silk & Scandal | Hadley’s Hellions | Ransleigh Rogues | Whiskey River Christmas | Sisters of Scandal | Wellingfords
JULIA’S LATEST NOVEL:
The obvious solution:
A marriage of convenience!
Part of Sisters of Scandal: Temperance Lattimar is too scandalous for a Season, until finally she’s sponsored by Lady Sayleford. The whole charade feels wrong when she doesn’t want a husband, but Temper feels awful when MP and aristocrat Gifford Newell is appointed to “protect” her at society events. With her past, she knows she’s not an ideal wife…but then a marriage of convenience to Giff becomes the only option!
Romance Historical [Harlequin Historical Romance, On Sale: February 19, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781335635006 / eISBN: 9781488047152]
BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:
A Novel of the Taj Mahal
In 1632, the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, overwhelmed with grief over the death of his beloved wife, Mumatz Mahal, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. The story surrounding the construction of the Taj Mahal occurs, however, against a scrim of fratricidal war, murderous rebellion, unimaginable wealth, and, not least of all, religious fundamentalism ruthlessly opposing tolerance and coexistence between the disparate peoples in the empire.
At that time, Hindustan comprised all of modern Pakistan and Kashmir, most of eastern Afghanistan, and two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent (roughly north of Bombay to the Himalayas).
Beneath a Marble Sky—narrated by Princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal—recounts their story, and her own as well, a parallel tale of forbidden love enduring censure and extreme deprivations. Beneath a Marble Sky brims with action and intrigue befitting an epic era when, alongside continuous war, architecture and its attendant arts reached a pinnacle of perfection.
In a splendid debut, John Shors has crafted an immensely readable and well-researched historical novel of surprisingly contemporary relevance.
Royal French Court intrigue surrounds a beautiful young couturiere and her dashing nobleman-husband as Queen Mother Catherine de Medici unfolds her devious scheme to preserve her reign.
Rachelle Macquinet, couturiere from one of France’s most celebrated silk-making families, is under palace arrest at Fontainebleau. While creating a royal gown, she is ensnared, along with her husband, Marquis Fabien de Vendome, in the Queen Mother’s secret murderous scheme.
Fabien has returned from a venture against Spain to claim Rachelle as his bride, but not without a price: the Queen Mother plans to implicate him in an assassination!
Fabien and Rachelle are caught in history’s deadly swirl and love’s uncertainties as they seek to escape to the safety of England. Faith in Christ must uphold them in a time of great persecution that demands greater courage.
From New York Times bestselling author Yangsze Choo, an utterly transporting novel set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, perfect for fans of Isabel Allende and Min Jin Lee
Smart, vivacious Ji Lin is stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s Mahjong debts. But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin may finally get the adventure she has been hoping for.
Across town, 11-year-old houseboy Ren is on a mission of his own, racing to fulfill his former master’s dying wish: that Ren find the man’s severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever.
As the days tick by, a series of unexplained deaths wreak havoc on the town, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren are pulled together in ways they couldn’t have imagined, as their increasingly dangerous paths lead them from lush plantations, to hospital storage rooms, to a ghostly dreamscape.
The Night Tiger draws us into a world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and forbidden love. But anchoring this dazzlingly ambitious, propulsive novel is the intimate coming of age of a boy and a girl, each searching for their place in a society that would rather they stay invisible.
Historical [Flatiron Books, On Sale: February 12, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250175458 / eISBN: 9781250175441]
For fans of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and Lilac Girls, the heartbreaking history of Korea is brought to life in this deeply moving and redemptive debut that follows two sisters separated by World War II.
Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.
South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than sixty years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?
Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.
Women’s Fiction Historical [G.P. Putnam’s Sons, On Sale: October 2, 2018, Trade Size / e-Book (reprint), ISBN: 9780735214446 / eISBN: 9780735214453]