About the book

 

Central China, 1266 . . .

When Mongol armies storm into the Middle Kingdom, the descendents of Yun Cai (Taming Poison Dragons) are trapped in a desperate siege that will determine the fate of the Empire.

Guang and Shih are identical twins, one a heroic soldier idolised by the city he defends, the other a humble doctor. In the midst of war, jealous conflicts over Shih’s wife and concubine threaten to tear the brothers apart.

Enemies close in on every side – some disturbingly close to home. Can the Yun family survive imprisonment, ruthless treachery and Kublai Khan’s bloody hordes? Or will their own reckless passions destroy them first?

Breaking Bamboo is the second instalment of a trilogy set in Song and Yuan Dynasty China, charting the trials and adventures of the Yun clan.


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Extract from the opening of Breaking Bamboo

竹子

Nancheng, Central China. Summer 1266.

 

Summer was seldom a pleasant time for Dr Shih. Monsoon and breathless heat encouraged all manner of disease, not least of the spirit. On humid nights the temporary oblivion of sleep often eluded him until dawn. So the persistent banging at his gate did not take him quite by surprise.

He lay awake beside his wife, Cao, who always slept well. Tiny beads of sweat prickled his forehead and upper lip. Thoughts far from the city, far from agreeable, made a midnight summons oddly welcome. Besides, he was used to night callers, generally fetching him to attend a difficult birth – or death.

He rose and hurried down a long, dark corridor to the medicine shop. Dr Shih took up a lamp burning beneath a cheap woodcut print of the Yellow Emperor then unbarred the door.

The man before him wore a high official’s vermilion silk robes and was accompanied by lantern-bearing servants, as well as several soldiers leaning on tasselled halberds. Such callers were unusual in any part of town, but especially here. Dr Shih’s shop stood in Water Basin Ward, one the city’s poorer districts. His wealthiest patients were artisans and their families. He bowed respectfully and waited for the official to speak.

‘Are you Yun Shih?’ demanded his visitor.

He sensed movement behind him and turned to see Cao entering the room, her long hair in disarray. Alarm crossed her soft, plump face as she recognised the man’s uniform. Shih motioned her out of sight.

‘I am Yun Shih, sir,’ he said, sounding confident for Cao’s sake. He could sense her apprehension and felt enough of his own.

Official eyes narrowed, looking him up and down.

‘You are a doctor?’

‘I believe so, sir.’

Still the official did not seem satisfied.

‘You are younger than I expected.’

Indeed Shih did appear younger than three decades deserved. There was something restless and youthful in the frank gaze of his gentle brown eyes. Yet his dark, straight eyebrows suggested an unusually determined nature.

The official wiped his moist brow with a trailing silk sleeve.

‘May I assume I am not in trouble?’ asked Shih.

The official shook his head.

‘His Excellency Wang Ting-bo requires you. Be ready soon.’

Dr Shih flinched slightly, then turned to where his wife hovered behind the tall maple counter of their shop.

‘Go back to bed. I shall return to Apricot Corner Court before dawn.’

He knew she would sit up all night waiting for him, sipping cup after cup of tea.

Once the apprentice was roused and dressed, Dr Shih joined the official in the street. It was cooler out here than indoors.

‘Who is sick, sir?’ he asked.

Raucous singing and clapping drifted across the canal from Ping’s Floating Oriole House. A group of neighbours, fanning themselves at a stall selling cordials, called out a polite greeting. The official silenced them with a haughty stare.

‘Your patient is Wang Ting-bo’s son,’ he said, quietly. ‘They say he is unlikely to outlive the dawn.’

Dr Shih was glad Cao had not heard that. It hardly boded well to be summoned to a sick dragon’s bedside. Or even the only son of a dragon.