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Reviewed by Stacie Haas for Readers' Favorite
The emperor and founder of the Ming Dynasty isn’t fond of the way his history is recalled on the Imperial Tomb Tablet, as The Lacquered Talisman by Laurie Dennis opens. It says nothing of the despair and misfortune that befell his family, nothing of how hot it was the summer his parents perished, nothing of what it was like to eat tree bark so he didn’t starve. And so, the emperor decided, the tablet should be destroyed and his history re-written by his own hand. Fortune, as he was then known, was the youngest son of a bean curd maker. A sickly baby, he survived only after his father promised him to the temple if Buddha spared him. He did survive and with only a pockmarked face as a lasting effect. The plague took most of his family away and put Fortune on a path to become a monk at Tiger Empress Temple and to be called Vessel. As Vessel, he studied the stars and the politics of the day, including uprisings against the Mongol rulers. When he finds himself at the top of a mountain with Daoists, Vessel finally learns of about the markings on his family talisman and asks the heavens for guidance about his future—and it isn’t as a monk. What comes next is a story for volume two.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lacquered Talisman by Laurie Dennis. It was painstakingly researched and presented as a classic work of literary fiction with a beautifully flowing narrative. It is simply superb from beginning to end. Certainly, the history of Zhu Yuanzhang, emperor of the Ming Dynasty, is an interesting one to tell, but Laurie Dennis brought it to life. The writing is lyrical like poetry and accessible like a contemporary novel. I found it engrossing and dramatic against the backdrop of fourteenth-century China. What a wonderful peek into the prevailing culture and traditions of the Chinese people at the time. I greatly appreciated the historical notes at the end and the wonderful map. I highly recommend The Lacquered Talisman for lovers of history and historical fiction, and indeed, all lovers of great books. I cannot wait for volume two to read the rest of the story.