Silk Road

Jeanne Larsen

Mandarin 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
A fantasy novel set in Tang China, Silk Road follows a young girl, daughter of the commander of the military post at Khotan in Western China, who is kidnapped by Tibetan raiders and sold into slavery. Parrot, as she is known, ends up as a courtesan first in Don-Huang and then in the capital of Chang-An; her quest to find her mother will take her across China and down the Yangzi to Cavegarden Lake.

Parrot's story is interleaved with largely comic episodes involving the immortals who follow her progress and manipulate her life: an Undersecretary in the Taoist Celestial Administration, King of the Dead Yama, the Good Lady Guan-yin, the Western Motherqueen, and an assortment of other figures. Much of the story is told from Parrot's perspective in the first person, but much is in the third person, with many sections modelled on Ming short stories (complete with interjections by the storyteller) or other Chinese genres. Larsen draws on Chinese sources not just for content but for structure and form, though heavily reworked for a Western audience. (And she sensitively negotiates the dangers involved in cultural appropriation of this kind.)

The earlier part of Silk Road is slower and closer to historical fiction, with the supernatural action largely epiphenomenal, but it becomes both more eventful and more fantastic as it progresses. There are enough of the cliches of modern fantasy to keep most readers of the genre happy — perhaps too many for some of us — but there is also much that is refreshingly original.

Silk Road is out of print, but secondhand copies seem easy enough to come by. It forms part of a trilogy, with Bronze Mirror and Manchu Palaces, but is a self-contained novel.

January 2005

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- Jeanne Larsen - Bronze Mirror + Manchu Palaces
- books about China + Chinese history
- more fantasy
%T Silk Road
%A Larsen, Jeanne
%I Mandarin
%D 1991
%O paperback
%G ISBN 074930524X
%P 354pp