Review: The Empress of Bright Moon / by Madeleine

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Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this text by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

It's safe to say that historical fiction is my favorite genre. I love getting lost in other times and places, and I love the knowledge that I ultimately gain from immersing myself in different time periods. Right now, my fourth graders are working on writing their own historical fiction stories, and going through that writing process with them has helped me to appreciate the enormous task of crafting a well-written historical fiction novel. The Empress of Bright Moon is one of those novels that I've told my students about during this process because while reading it, I was fully immersed and caught up in every moment/emotion. I mentioned before that I generally lean towards European stories, but I've found myself increasingly interested in historical fiction set in Asia, so I jumped at the chance to read The Empress of Bright Moon

The story follows Mei, a former talent (aka concubine) to an elderly emperor, after she is exiled from the palace when her lover, the son of the emperor, comes into power. She is transported to a buddhist monastery, where she is expected to live the rest of her days in quiet contemplation. Mei defies her exile, however, when she hears that Pheasant (her lover and the now emperor) is visiting a nearby monastery. There, they are reunited, and he brings her back to the palace. Throughout the years of his rule, Mei has to navigate the dangers of court. Not only does Pheasant's regent uncle constantly undermine his power, he has teamed up with Pheasant's wife, who wants nothing more than for Mei to disappear. The story is based upon true events, and Mei eventually goes on to become the only empress of China. 

Here's what I loved about this book: sometimes in historical fiction, knowing the actual history can ruin the book. In this case, knowing that Mei becomes empress did nothing to mitigate the tension that I felt while reading. There were times when things seemed to be going so well for her, but during those parts I had the uneasy feeling that it was all too good to be true. And most of the time, it was. The story contains love, incredible heartbreak, and the kinds of intrigue and backstabbing that only comes with being royalty. Mei herself was a great character: she was headstrong, clever, fiercely loyal, protective, and, like many of the women in history that I admire, an excellent ruler. 

I will mention that I read this without having any idea that it was the second in a duology. This novel is actually the sequel to The Moon in the Palace, which I hadn't read before, but I absolutely think it can be read on its own. I did enjoy it quite a bit, so I have put the first in the duology on my to-read list. If you're interested in rich historical fiction, I'd definitely recommend giving this a try.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

  • Title: The Empress of Bright Moon (Empress of Bright Moon #2)
  • Author: Weina Dai Randel
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016
  • Expected Publication Date: April 1, 2016
  • Price: $11 on Amazon
  • ISBN: 1492613592
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Net Galley