A few years I ago, I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and was fascinated by Nü-shu, the secret writing system passed down from mother to daughter. From woman to woman. Also in Snow Flower, we learn about sworn sisters.
In The Secrets of Jin-shei, Alexander creates an imaginary China-like kingdom, Syai, where the imperial succession is passed through the female line. And where the Empress chooses her Emperor. Unfortunately, he’s also allowed to have concubines, and the daughters of the concubines are adopted by the Empress and are eligible to succeed. Even an ordinary woman can propose marriage! And there are women in the Imperial Guard. Very un-China-like.
Anyway, women have their own script, jin-ashu. And they have sworn sisters, or, as they call them, jin-shei-bao. Sisters of the heart. This book is about the ties and obligations of the members of one jin-shei circle. In this circle are an Empress, a poetess/seamstress, a healer, a Teacher, a Guard, a mage, a Guard’s daughter, and a Traveller. The ties are intricate, complicated, and overlapping.
This fantasy kingdom is very richly described in its customs and culture, though, in other aspects it’s a little too fantastical. I’m referring to a certain mage and a couple of Sages. That little subplot seemed a little too far out there to me. It didn’t really fit in with the rest of it. Way too evil-mad-scientist.
I liked this book very much. Alma Alexander built a beautiful, vivid world.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars