The Mark of Wu -- Book One: Hidden Paths
Stephen M Gray, author
This first novel in The Mark of Wu series opens as the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty devolves toward Warring States Period. \tThe Emperor’s grip on the feudal States is over. Brutal rivalries, both new and old now rule, and military clashes lay waste to those who are unprepared. Some men are driven by pure evil, and States either gain power or die. \tState of Chu soldier Yuan stands on his chariot, reining in his team of eager steeds, anxious for a chance to unleash his rage on the invading Wu barbarians in the battle before him.
Gray fills this robust first novel of the Mark of Wu series with ample treachery in the Chinese monarchy of 519 BCE and heart-stopping scenes of ancient warfare. After the initial chapters, a bit dense with background and characters (a helpful list and maps are included), Gray moves assuredly into the battle of Chi-fu, a land dispute between the states of Chu and Wu. The battle looks like a win for Chu warriors until it becomes apparent that the incompetent Chu commander Wei Yue, who was given the role instead of the highly respected leader Yuan, has been outplayed by Wu’s Prince Kuang, a master strategist. Chu’s King Ping rages at both the loss to Wu and at his own state’s tribal disputes. He sees threats all around him, even from his son Chien, the heir apparent who was banished to a faraway state. Yuan tries to protect his family and the heir apparent; he and the heir’s son begin a long, brutal escape, seeking safety away from unfriendly forces until Yuan confronts his arch enemy, Prince Kuang, in hostile Wu territory. Despite its slow start, the novel quickly picks up the pace and doesn’t let up. History buffs, military devotees, and thrill seekers will find this an enjoyable roller-coaster ride. (BookLife)