Lady of Ch'iao Kuo, Warrior of the South
by Laurence Yep
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lady of Ch'iao Kuo, Warrior of the South / 0-439-16483-4
This Special Edition of the Princess Diaries series lives up to its name; it is easily the best of the fascinating series, and also the longest - topping 275 gripping pages. Set in sixth century China, this book is everything you don't expect it to be.
Princess Redbird is the oldest daughter of the ruler of one of the many tribes in the Great Forest, on the boundaries of the Chinese empire. Though she is Hsien, and therefore considered barbaric by the neighboring Chinese, her parents have selected her to attend a special Chinese school in the nearby border settlement, in order that she might learn the Chinese language and customs, and act as an interpreter for her people in their dealings with the Chinese.
Redbird may be a young princess, but she is no delicate swooning maiden. She is considered by her people to be clever and wise (although she fears she is neither), and she is called upon regularly to settle minor disagreements between neighbors. She hunts for game in the Great Forest, and can walk a steady pace with the soldiers who escort her along the difficult journey to her school. She is compassionate, protecting the old soldier who leads her escort from the shame of his growing weakness, and seeking to form some kind of peace between the Chinese and the tribes of the Great Forest. Most of all, she hungers for learning, and loves the books which have been given to her by her kind teacher.
When her tribe is forced to go to war, Redbird is recalled from school to find her world turned upside down. Her older brother, unwise and unready to rule, must be prevailed upon by his advisors and their people to listen to Redbird and her wise advice as they are set on all sides by enemies. And even as Redbird prevails upon her rash brother to listen to her, she worries that her advice may be neither wise nor effective, and she struggles to find some kind of balance between her desire for revenge and her yearning for peace.
This book is a quick and fascinating read and is nothing like what I expected from a novel telling the tale of a Chinese princess. I expected something sedate and quiet, with minor 'battles' between women over points of ceremony and decorum. Instead, 'Lady of Ch'iao Kuo' is an action-packed adventure with war, intrigue, and danger. Though Redbird is young, she is brave and loyal, willing to take up her hunting bow in defense of her Chinese friends. She is wise enough to know when to disobey her royal family, and her people are strong enough to know when to back their clever princess in her plans. And though she takes justified delight when her advice leads to triumphs for her people, she still mourns over the futility of war and yearns to bring her people a peace bought with kindness instead of cruelty.
I heartily recommend 'Lady of Ch'iao Kuo' to both children and adults. The story is compelling and entertaining, and this fictional portrayal of Redbird results in a realistic young woman worthy of admiration and respect.
~ Ana Mardoll
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