Tienkuo The Heavenly Kingdom
Jason Brandt is a young man who has been transplanted to Hong Kong via his father’s missionary work. The story begins in 1858 in an unstable situation, as a war is brewing. Invasion is on the horizon. Jason’s father is a reverend from New England who sees Jason’s future quite clearly in the United States, gaining an education in Ohio. Jason is eager to travel and work as a translator in Guangzhou. His father is firm in his denial of Jason’s wishes, so Jason rebels and “liberates” the money earmarked for his education. His knowledge of China is a boon for his trip into the Chinese interior. He meets and befriends a stranger named Wu, a castoff from the Chinese gentry. Wu becomes a tutor to Jason. Jason and Wu’s friendship is later cemented when Jason saves Wu from servitude on a ship set for parts unknown. Jason excels as an interpreter as the Chinese mainland is beset by invasion from foreign countries and internal forces as well. Jason also serves in a police unit, his cooperation deteriorating to resistance as a counterinsurgency takes shape. A battle for the city looms large. Wu and Jason escape and encounter a young woman named Black Jade herself an outcast for dishonoring her family. Black Jade joins the duo, and they embark on a troubled journey. They run into a Reverend Roberts who is acquainted with Jason’s family. The trip to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom eventually finds Black Jade betrothed to a Taiping soldier and Jason a stringer for a newspaper. The years pass and the war between the Taipings and Manchu Dynasty heats up. Jason is chronicling the happenings but feels an obligation to his friends. Will he get there to see them?
Tienkuo: the Heavenly Kingdom is a coming-of-age tale ensnared in history. The second Opium war & the nineteenth century Chinese Civil War are the backdrop for many of the goings-on in this story. The characters are well drawn and their travails are engaging. The adventure converges with the drama and burgeoning love story. A book offering great promise for its sequel. “A” all the way!