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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Empress of the Jade Realm: A Mongolian Epic by Starr Z. Davies is a historical fiction novel that follows the line of Genghis Khan generations later. It is the fourth and final book in the Fractured Empire Saga series, preceded by book one, Daughter of the Yellow Dragon; book two, Lords of the Black Banner; and book three, Mother of the Blue Wolf. While the restoration of the Empire in the 15th century through the finding, raising, grooming, and championing of the next Great Khan is the main plot, the reimagined life of Lady Mandukhai is the story. What began as Mandukhai's rise as the second wife of a Great Khan now culminates as Genghis Khan's directive—prophesied to Mandukhai—enters the conclusive stage. The last direct descendent of Genghis is the boy Dayan, now a young man, who is the newest Great Khan, put there by Mandukhai who has raised Dayan into a fiercely capable young man. Mandukhai's heart has been held by another for years even when her loyalty was unshakeably with Dayan. The war of hearts is only eclipsed by the war waged by those who seek to further fracture the Mongols, and the Mongols, led by the Great Khan Dayan, will never let that happen. “That’s the sound of your defeat,” she said with vehemence, “and your death.”
Empress of the Jade Realm explores a time, culture, and critical juncture in world history that I knew virtually nothing about until Starr Z. Davies' series landed in my lap. I adore historical fiction and am particularly drawn to work that puts the focus on great and powerful women. Lady Mandukhai, the wife of two Great Khans, wasn't exactly a tough sell to me. I was on board immediately. Still, an intriguing character and story conjured from history's sparse dust are not enough to make for a compelling read. However, Davies is an exceptionally talented writer. Multiple points of view are managed without downtime with smooth transitions in the narrative, with authentic dialogue, and enough angst and action to keep the momentum barrelling forward. We have motherly love, loverly love, unrequited love, deep loss, deep secrets, betrayal, and war. We have a queen who has harnessed the power she gathered on her own while being passed forcefully from one Great Khan to another Great Khan of her own crafting, and in a situation where the death of the latter would once again have her forcefully passed to the next Great Khan again. For readers new to the series, you are the lucky ones, because you can sit down and binge on the whole entire saga uninterrupted. For those who are already devoted fans, the finale will not disappoint.