Cover image for The secrets of jin-shei : a novel
The secrets of jin-shei : a novel
Alexander, Alma.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
[San Francisco, CA] : HarperSanFrancisco, [2004]

Physical Description:
503 pages ; 24 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Enter an ancient world of courtly elegance and intrigue, where sages are also sorcerers, and the daughter of a lowly seamstress can become a companion to an empress. In this magical land there is a secret language -- a language that women have passed down from mother to daughter for countless generations -- a language that signals a bond like no other . . . the bond of jin-shei.

Set in a mythical Chinese kingdom, The Secrets of Jin-shei is a timeless story of what sustains friendship -- and what tears it apart. Accepting all the joys and responsibilities of jin-shei, eight girls pledge lifelong loyalty to each other: the poet, Tai, whose promise to a dying girl changes the history of an empire; the warrior, Xaforn, an orphan who will protect her chosen family no matter what the cost; Khailin, the scholar, whose thirst for knowledge leads her into a world of dark secrets and alchemy; sage Nhia, the only person with the power to save Khailin; Tammary, the gypsy girl, whose secret lineage could ruin a royal house; Qiaan, daughter of a captain in the Imperial Guard, with family secrets of her own; the healer, Yuet, confidante to the empress; and the empress herself, Liudan, whose search for family and ultimate quest for immortality holds the power to destroy them all.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This fast-paced, imaginative, and thoroughly engrossing fantasy explores the meaning of friendship and loyalty among eight young women--sisters of the heart--in a mythical Chinese realm. Ever since the dawn of time, mothers have passed on to their daughters a special language (jin-ashu) and the existence of special friendships (jin-shei) that cross boundaries of class and heritage. Accepting someone's offer of jin-shei brings both benefits and responsibilities, and Alexander's characters find their lives both complicated and enriched by these friendships.ito-Tai, the poet daughter of a seamstress, is asked by Princess Antian, the emperor's oldest daughter (and empress-presumptive), to be her jin-shei, a request that will eventually change the course of the empire. Although Alexander has published four other novels in Australia and New Zealand, this is the first to be published in the U.S and will surely whet readers' appetites for more. --Nancy Pearl Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Set in a mythical ancient Chinese kingdom, this evocative novel is sure to be popular with fans of Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and even Marion Zimmer Bradley. In her first U.S. publication, Alexander (whose previous books were published in Britain and New Zealand) offers a perfect genre-buster: romance, political intrigue, adventure, horror, magic, suspense-and enough anthropological detail to create a believable alternate history. Bound by the inviolable loyalty pledge of jin-shei, eight women, all vastly different and deftly portrayed, move together in a complicated play for power, love, and acceptance. There is dangerous, self-centered Empress Liudan, who begins a quest for immortality; poet Tai, who first commits her heart to a dying princess; fierce warrior Xaforn; master healer Yuet; wise counselor Nhia; scholar Khaelin, who learns alchemy to her own peril; Tammary, a gypsy with a secret lineage; and Qiaan, whose very existence is a danger to them all. Their fabulous world comes alive in their stories: through jin-ashu, the secret women's language; in Lihui, the evil Ninth Sage who steals souls to strengthen his own power yet inspires love; and in the intricate secrets of a dynasty that will prosper or fall by the will of the gods and of its angry empress. Highly recommended.-Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Secrets of Jin-shei A Novel One It had been the hottest summer in living memory. The letters that came to the Summer Palace from those left behind to swelter in the Imperial Court in Linh-an were full of complaints about the heavy, sultry heat that wrapped and stifled them until they gasped for breath, the clouds that built up huge and purple every day against the bleached white sky but never brought anything except dry lightning and a distant threatening rumble of thunder. And it was barely the middle of the month of Chanain. Summer had only just begun. But there were few left in Linh-an. At the Summer Palace in the mountains, although it was still hot enough for servants with enormous peacock feather fans to take up posts beside the royal women's beds until they fell asleep at night, one could raise one's eyes to the distant whitecapped peaks and be comforted with the dream of coolness. There was always a breeze in the gardens, too, whispering in the leaves of the dwarf mountain magnolia trees planted around the inner courtyard. It was pleasant to linger there in the early morning, when the bird chorus was just starting up, or in the late afternoon with its long shadows and golden light. The voices of wild crickets mingled with captive ones in tiny wicker houses which hung concealed in the trees. There were cool ponds and fountains where water played over the smooth mottled gray stone brought here from a great distance by a long-dead Empress to grace her gardens. There were white flowers and red ones, some with a golden cast, and some with heavy purple petals making their heads nod in the breeze. And there were the butterflies. It was the butterflies that brought Tai there. She was not of the Court, not even of the Court's retinue; by rights she should have had no real access to the Imperial Gardens at all. Imperial life was complicated. Down in Linh-an, the great capital city, the lives of the women of the Imperial Court were governed by endless rounds of etiquette and protocol. There were people to see, petitioners to receive; the higher-ranked Princesses and concubines held their own courts, and were expected to grace public ceremonies with their presence and attend to the day-to-day business of their own households. All of this required strict rules about attire and adornment. Summer was the only time when a woman of the Imperial Court of Syai was permitted to appear outside her bedroom without the mandatory hours of preparation and perfection. Here, in the Summer Palace, the Court was on holiday; the women were allowed to wear their hair down, to emerge from the seclusion of their rooms without the heavy ceremonial outer robes, to go barefoot in the gardens. And summer was the only time that the ladies had the time to devote to the preparation of the necessary ceremonial garb for the Autumn Court at which they were all to appear to mark their return to Linh-an from their summer frolics. Everyone required a brand-new formal suit of robes for that occasion, and the Summer Palace was always a happy muddle of bolts of sumptuous silks, bright velvets, furs for lining hoods and tippets, and a thousand embroidery hoops with half-finished flowers and hummingbirds. Tai's mother, Rimshi, was always part of the entourage which the Imperial ladies took to the Summer Palace. Rimshi was a sorceress with the needle. She could transform silk and velvet and brocade into lavish robes, and her services were much in demand. Ever since she had been widowed, three years ago now, Rimshi had taken Tai with her to the Summer Palace. Tai had been just six when she had first come here clinging to her mother's skirts, and had been fussed over and petted and spoiled with sweets and the royal castoffs from princesses unlikely to be seen in public twice wearing the same suit of court garb. Tai had a closet full of luxurious robes which her mother carefully recut and reshaped into clothes suitable for her to wear. She was nine now, but she had become so much a part of the Summer Palace gardens by this time that nobody even thought about questioning her presence there. She would find an unobtrusive perch in some out-of-the-way courtyard and dream her way through lazy summer mornings listening to the cricket chorus and watching the bright butterflies flutter from flowerhead to flowerhead, contrasting white and blue and violet and vivid orange against the blooms and foliage. One of the gifts that had percolated to her that particular summer, from a bored royal concubine who could not master the art of using them, was a set of colored chalks and a sheaf of thick creamy rag paper. Tai had loved the idea of drawing the somnolent summer gardens. She was only just beginning to have an idea of how the chalks worked, and her first few efforts were crude and garish, in an attempt to overcompensate from what she was used to, brushes and inks and the cheap thin paper she could get back home in Linh-an. But she was learning, and these dazzling summer butterflies were her favorite subject. She was smudging the finishing touches to a surprisingly delicate rendition on a hot, slow afternoon, sitting in the mottled shade of an ancient twisted chestnut with her feet tucked tidily away under her robe and oblivious to everything else around her, when she was startled to hear a voice from behind her. "That is actually very good," the voice observed, a young woman's voice, sounding at once lofty and warmly approving. Tai, who had paused in her work and had been sitting with her eyes tightly closed and her head lifted in a pose of furious concentration, dropped her paper and scrambled gracelessly to her feet ... The Secrets of Jin-shei A Novel . Copyright © by Alma Alexander. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Secrets of Jin-Shei: A Novel by Alma Alexander All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.