THE EMBERS OF HEAVEN by Alma Alexander.
A RICH, MAGICAL EPIC OF ROMANCE AND REVOLUTION.
The foundation of an empire once rested on the secret language of jin-shei and its customs. Connecting women from every walk of life, it empowered everyone who swore the oath. But four hundred years after the empire flourished, things in the land of Syai have changed beyond recognition.
Amais is a child of two worlds, born in a country far away from her ancestral land. She is taught the woman's language by her grandmother - but when circumstances take her back to Syai, she finds a vastly different world from the one she has always imagined.
Amais determines to reinvent the women's country and bring back the secrets of jin-shei. But just as her crusade begins, she is caught up in a storm of history - the whirlwind of the Golden Rising, a people's revolution that is fated to destroy much that was once valuable, gracious and beautiful - including the last remnants of the treasure Amais has sworn to restore to the world.
..... From the outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): There were only two questions that governed Amais's existence.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: It was extremely difficult to pinpoint that sprite's gender - its glossy black hair swung just below its ears, and parted in the middle, and its features were formed of equal parts a boy's firmness and a girl's vulnerability. Its mouth was still full and dewy with childhood, but its eyes ...... its eyes were were the eyes of the never-born and of the often-born, full of a sad, strange wisdom that touched me in places I had not known existed inside me.
A follow-up to the author's THE SECRETS OF JIN-SHEI which I have not read, The Embers of Heaven can also be read as a stand alone story.
Set in the land of Syai which, as the author reminds us, "Is NOT China", this novel is all about one woman's crusade to remind people of a time now gone - a time when jin-shei, "a pledged sisterhood of female friends who are not related by blood. Sworn sisters much closer to one another than their own blood kin, a lifetime commitment, binding and holy" whereby " if a sister asked anything of another in the name of the sisterhood, the request had to be honoured at all cost."
Multi-faceted, full of wonderful, memorable characters and rich in description. It is the story of Amais who finds herself living in a different era. It is the story of Iloh, revolutionary and leader of the People's Party, whose future was predicted many years ago by a blind girl, 'blessed' with the ability "to read faces." It is the story of three women groomed in the art of jin-shei and jin-ashu "once known as the female alphabet or the women's tongue, a secret language passed from mother to daughter". It is the story of a child who comes to Amais in her dreams, a child who, when it's identity is revealed, will leave you shocked and, somehow, pleasantly surprised. But most of all, it is a story of fate.
MY RATING: 4 out of a possible 5. It is a long time since a novel touched me quite as much. Further reading is highly recommended.