If you enjoy a descriptive historical fiction read, filled with plenty of action and palace intrigue, then you won’t be disappointed in Stephen M. Gray’s The Mark of Wu—Book One: Hidden Paths!
Set during China’s Eastern Zhou (Chou) Dynasty’s Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BC), the main character, Yuan, faces peril from all sides. His family has fallen out of favor with King Ping of Chu due to the internal scheming of powerful members of the court. Yuan is determined to regain that favor through a victorious battle. He is a gifted commander and well respected by his men. His aptitude for leadership and tactics is well known. But circumstances beyond his control plunge him into a deadly game of survival after a decisive engagement is lost—through no fault of his own.
Prince Chien, King Ping’s heir apparent, has been exiled and with him Yuan’s family. When King Ping executes Yuan’s father and brother, the commander must use all his wiles to keep Prince Chien’s family from being next on the block. And so begins an incredible journey through the countryside, evading guards who chase them at every turn, unforgiving terrain, and lack of provisions. The survivors finally end up in the hands of an old enemy whom Yuan must now persuade to keep them safe.
Gray’s knowledge of the period’s weaponry and battle strategy is educational and fascinating. His characters are well-developed and credible. The details of the story are vivid and the language used colorful. Despite noticeable errors in editing, the tale is engrossing.
Review by Sandi Cowper (September 2018)
Ancient China, 519 B.C. Yuan, a State of Chu warrior, stands front and center on his chariot, reins in hand, holding at bay a spirited team of horses. He is anxious for a chance to unleash his rage on the invading Wu barbarians in the battle before him. His eyes fix enviously on a fellow soldier, a halberdier who extends his hooked weapon over the shoulder of an enemy who desperately sprints away from the charging chariot. Yuan knows the result before it happens. The wicked blade rips through flesh and muscle, then sinks into the enemy’s collar bone as screams echo off the Dabie Shan Mountains.
Yuan glances toward Field Marshall Wei Yue, thirsting for the order to charge into the fray. He needs this fight to restore his family’s honor. But on the march to battle, Chu’s brilliant General Yang Gai dies, and the less capable Wei Yue snatches control. Can the newly anointed Field Marshall rise to the challenge?
The Emperor has lost his grip on the feudal States, and brutal rivalries, both new and old, now rule. Individual States constantly collide, and noblemen must rise in power to overcome the crushing will of warring factions. Only two outcomes are possible - prevail or perish.
Yuan finds himself catapulted into the throes of treacherous enemies, not only on the battlefield but also at home. This superior warrior will need all his skill and cunning to stay alive.
Hidden Paths is the first book in The Mark of Wu series. It opens as the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty devolves toward the Warring States Period.
ISBN/ASIN: ISBN: 9780999007105 / ASIN: B07B49T2JR
Book Format(s): Soft cover, Kindle
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Review Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 383