This book is beautifully painful, and often painfully beautiful, and no, that’s not the same thing. This is my first foray into Schwab, which might be weird considering that I own pretty much all her books, but they stare at me in open judgement as I slowly, ever so slowly, whittle down my TBR, and then sometimes throw that out the window with books like this. All this to say, I didn’t entirely know what to expect from this author, or this book, just that I admire Schwab and her candor, and therefore auto-buy her books. So I can’t say if this is always Schwab’s voice, but my goodness, the PAIN that she manages to stuff into her main characters cut me deeply. This is such a millennial book, and I mean that in a good way. It often feels that millennials, more than other generations, suffer from this panic and anxiety driven desire to be enough, to do enough, to leave a mark, to be remembered, and then you bundle that up with the very uniquely human drive to avoid death, where we are never ready for the end… This book spoke to me on a level where I felt seen and heard, even though Schwab was doing all the talking.
I am a big fan of ancient historical fiction. Some of my favorite historical fiction books are the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell mainly because it helps me feel like I am learning about a time long forgotten and being supremely entertained at the same time—don’t yell at me, I know historical fiction is Fiction with that capital “F” and lots of liberties are being taken, but a good historical fiction will inspire you, me, and maybe your mom too, to go out and then learn more about that time, or at least Google it for the next two days. That’s what “The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland” did for me. You see, I was 0% familiar with “La Chanson de Roland”, the epic poem/story this novel is based on. It’s the story of the most honorable of knights in the Christian Frank Kingdom as he protects his king and country from the Emir of Saragossa. Who is Roland’s king that he becomes the champion for? That he’ll stand against countless waves of enemies for, and uncover murder plots for? Oh, just the guy who later becomes known as Charlemagne, maybe you’ve heard of him?
I’m going to start by saying I don’t read a lot of Historical Romance. When I do read the genre, there’s pretty much only one thing I want out of it: for the characters to hook-up. So you may ask, “why not just read erotica, then?” Because I want a tad more substance and historical romance generally scratches that itch, that’s why. I read these books because they are fluffy, don’t require a lot of thought, and it’s a formula where I will get exactly what I came for: the MC’s eventually having hot sex. I can be a creature of simple pleasures, occasionally. I wanted to read “Last Night’s Scandal” because I read “Lord Perfect” and liked it, but really enjoyed the antics of the two childhood friends the most in that story. So, this story is those kids all grown up but with a kind of Brady Bunch vibe. They are related by marriage but have confusing feelings for each other once Lisle returns from Egypt and discovers his childhood friend is a total babe now, and Olivia has a similar revelation about Lisle. It’s cute, plus, this book is about Lisle and Olivia going to his family’s castle in Scotland to repair it, and finding there may be ghosts AND hidden treasure there! But that’s when the book takes on a kind of Scooby Doo vibe.
This is the first historical fiction focused on ancient China that I’ve ever read. Generally, my historical fiction tastes stay in Europe as I have this thing for kings and queens, or ancient Egypt and Rome. Why I never strayed into Asia is, frankly, a mystery to me because the culture is beautiful and fascinating and they have Emperors which satisfies why I lean towards Europe… Anyway, I’m just making excuses as to why it took me so long to read “The Moon in the Palace”. The story follows Mei, one of the Emperor’s concubines, who is told that she has a great destiny ahead of her, though she is unsure what shape it will take. Mei is from the Wu family, so given the subtitle is “a novel of Empress Wu”, you can kind of guess where that destiny leads, though that doesn’t come into play in the first book of this duology.
Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat: I wanted to love this book. I really did! In a day and age (still!) where it is unfortunately common to belittle a woman’s intellect, deny her the same accolades freely offered to a man, a woman’s work in ANY field to be viewed as lackluster compared to a male counterpart, I wanted to love this book HARD. But I didn’t. Even with stories of women being passed over for men being so common, I felt that this particular story was forced. A huge assumption was made in something that is supposed to be historical fiction, and in order to lift a woman up, someone else had to be torn down. In this case, another very real person: Einstein.
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