The historical fiction starts light, even funny: The protagonist Tian Haoli works as a kind of trickster lawyer, helping the illiterate small folks through the labyrinthic and corrupt ways of the Emperor’s courts. The author’s background in law schools shine through. It isn’t known if Tian is only mad or if his conversations with the monkey king is a phantastical element of fiction blended into the story: “There are no heroes, just normal people facing extraordinary choices“. Starting from this funny offset, the story gets ever darker, concentrating on the Manchu atrocities of the 1645 Yangzhou Massacre. It soon becomes clear that the story won’t finish with a happy ending. Instead, it is a classic tragedy reflecting the Scottish hero Rob Roy.
Read also Lightspeed’s excellent author spotlight about this story.