I like historical mysteries, but I'm particularly attracted to historical mysteries that take place in locations that aren't normally utilized, periods that rarely appear in historical mysteries or both. I've read a great many historical mysteries taking place in Japan, but very few taking place in China. I also have read no fiction at all set in 18th century China. So Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart is a rare bird indeed. This library student was also delighted that Hart's protagonist is a librarian and astonished that this is her first novel.
This review is also a milestone for this blog since it's my first giveaway! I am giving away a hardcover copy of Jade Dragon Mountain. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is comment on this review, or tell me what interests you in the book. You don't have to post your e-mail here if you're uncomfortable with doing that, but I do need to be able to contact you if you win. So make sure that when I click on your name, I find a profile with an e-mail link. You can enter this giveaway until November 10th.
It turned out that what I liked best about Jade Dragon Mountain was Hamza the storyteller. I found him very intriguing. I still want to know a great deal more about him. Hamza becomes a friend of the protagonist, Li Du. He is intelligent but can be enigmatic when he offers advice in the form of a story.
As expected, I also loved the role of libraries in this book. There is a library in which the books are shelved according to the Chinese constellations. There is a hidden library that represents the remains of a devastated collection. There is the Imperial Library in Li Du's past and possibly another library in his future.
The mystery of the murdered Jesuit involves political and economic conflicts. The suspects are numerous. There are a variety of Chinese and Western interests competing for power and influence. There is also an herbal dimension to the case. I'd never previously heard of a few of the Chinese herbs mentioned. It was a suspenseful narrative. Li Du has a strict time limit for solving the murder. I was continually absorbed by every new plot twist. The resolution of the case wasn't completely unexpected, but the ending of the book was a total surprise. I am looking forward to Elsa Hart's next novel.
The giveaway is now over. Congratulations to the winner, Cassandra!