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April 28, 2016

Suped Up: Empress of Bright Moon Duology by Weina Dai Randel

Empress of Bright Moon Duology
Weina Dai Randel
Sourcebook Landmark
Historical Fiction
April 5, 2016

Empress Wu kept me company during my week long hiatus. I loved the story so much because of the details I had to ask Weina Dai Randel to tell us more about the making of the duology. 





Tips to write an original novel truthful to your culture

by Weina Dai Randel



The Empress of Bright Moon, the sequel to The Moon in the Palace, has been out for a week now. The two books describe the journey of Empress Wu, who survives court intrigue, rebellion and other tragedies to become the first and only female ruler in China. The receptions of the books have been exceptionally well, and many readers were impressed with the rich historical details described in the duology. I'm pleased to hear that, and I'm glad to share my tips of how I wrote these novels truthful to the Chinese culture.


The first thing I worked hard on was the setting. Both books, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, were set in a palace in ancient China, the clearest indicator of the unique setting. To convey this setting, I described the palace in great details, the surrounding high walls, the enormous vermilion gates, the enormous buildings with flying eaves, and once the main character enters the palace, I described the layout of the buildings, the gardens, the plants and trees, the silk gowns, the fragrances, and even the women's hairstyle in great detail in order to transport readers to the bygone place.

I have to say that the description of the setting plays a huge part in a novel where the culture is unfamiliar to readers, and to in order to lure them to the unusual land, the best thing a writer can do is to describe it, and describe it in a way that's believable. Take Things Fallen Apart by Chinua Achebe, for example. We wouldn't be able to understand the culture deeply if we were unaware of the place the author showed us.

The second thing I stressed in my novels was the character. I wanted to create authentic characters who came out of the mold of Chinese culture, whom no one would mistake them for someone born in ancient Rome or Egypt. Since filial piety was an important part of Chinese culture, I gave my main character a deep bond with her family. (Honestly, I believe a traditional Chinese character without a sense of filial piety is not truly Chinese.) So in both books, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, filial piety played an important role. It was translated to the love of family, but was also converted into an obligation, or a suppression on the character, or even a motivation for the character as the plot evolved. This was the case for Mei, the main character of the two novels.

I also highlighted the role of traditions in the two books to better connect with the Chinese culture. In The Moon in the Palace, one of the traditions was that young girls were forced to leave their homes and summoned to serve the Emperor in the palace. In The Empress of Bright Moon, another tradition was mentioned. It was said that after the Emperor's death, concubines who didn't give him children were to be banished and imprisoned in Buddhist monasteries for the rest of their lives.

I also weaved the traditional holidays into the plot of the two books to create a distinct Chinese flavor. In The Empress of Bright Moon, for example, there was an occasion of Emperor Gaozong honoring his father on his death anniversary, a day that was celebrated with pomps and circumstances and attended by hundreds of officials and servants, who would dine for seven days and seven nights. The death anniversary was important in the Chinese culture, but the day might not be worthy of ceremony for people in the U.S.. Similar traditional holidays were also highlighted in The Moon in the Palace.

Also, I quoted the classical Chinese poetry, calligraphy, paintings, and also the verses of Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, and Confucius in both novels, all central to the Chinese culture. The main character, Mei, in fact, used the strategies from Sun Tzu to survive in the treacherous court.

Many of the characters and incidents in the books are historical. The main character, Mei, is based on the historical figure, the one and only female ruler in China. Many male characters, such as Emperor Taizong, and Emperor Gaozong, the son of Emperor Taizong, the ministers and the high-ranking ladies in the court, were historical figures as well. Even some incidents, such as the assassination plot, the exile of the main character, her imprisonment, and her pain of loss, were all based on historical records. 


I think when you write a diverse novel, it's important to ask yourself, what is the value of your culture? What distinguishes yours from the others? And from there, you dig deeper, look into the cultural elements and traditions, weave them into the plot, then you'll be able to create your own unique story.







Wow! Just wow! Weina Dai Randel transported me to ancient China, the Tang Dynasty to be exact, with her Empress of Bright Moon Duology. I didn't expect Mei's story to be so riveting or the ruthlessness of the Imperial court to be so cutting. 

THE MOON IN THE PALACE is Mei's story. It started with a somewhat impossible prophecy stating that she'll be an Empress someday. Mei's slow ascent in Court is filled with treachery, intrigue, and conspiracies to rival any European monarchy. It's no surprise she'd constantly refer to The Art of War to help her navigate and survive the court as a concubine. It's impossible to put down the novel, it's very antagonistic and seemingly hopeless. If not for the fact that Mei is an actual story, the fulfillment of the prophecy feels impossible at this point.

THE EMPRESS OF BRIGHT MOON revealed Mei's fate and her path to being the Empress. This book is part love story, part political thriller, and a very emotional sequel at that. Mei's cunning is impressive and her resilience is inspiring. She's grown so much! Gone is the hesitant girl, we now have a crouching tiger, a mama bear, and a phoenix on the rise. This sequel is also full of bloodshed, treachery, and tragedies. Who needs enemies when your family is like the Emperor's? 

As you've read in the guest post above, the novels are well researched resulting to rich and breathtaking details that enhanced and complemented Mei's life story. Imperial China's claim to dragons and phoenixes are no hollow boasts, the Emperor's court is splendid and civilized, unlike its European counterparts who are currently living in the Dark Ages during this time (7c AD). 

WDRandel also effectively humanized Empress Wu's exceptional tale. It's exciting and such a fascinating success story considering Mei lived at a time and place where women are considered property. The duology is masterfully written and truly affecting, impossible to put down. This is how you write a fictionalized biography, people!



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Weina Dai Randel was born and raised in China. She is the author of historical novel series The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon. Interviews of her have appeared on The Wall Street Journal China Real Time, Library Journal, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Huffington Post. 


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22 comments:

  1. Sounds like such a good read. I love these kinds of books because I always enjoy exploring other cultures. So glad you loved this. Thanks for exposing me to it.

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  2. I would love to read these two

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  3. I couldn't agree more with the setting comment. Some of these best books are those that are set in a wonderful background and very fleshed out.

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  4. It's great when a book transports you to a time and place that you could only imagine. I've always been curious about ancient China and these books are the perfect vehicle. :)

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  5. I love books like this! Where I feel like I'm learning something but being entertained. Especially when it's well researched and based on a lot of real things. I'll definitely have to consider reading these!

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  6. I love historical fiction that really makes you feel immersed in a particular time period, and these books sound like they do exactly that. Glad you enjoyed them!

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  7. Adding to my TBR! I like more diverse books, always looking for new to me ones!

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  8. It's not what I usually read but it sounds interesting! thanks for the post

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  9. This duology certainly sounds fascinating, Braine. I haven't read something like this in a long while but your review, and the guest post, made me think of Memoirs of a Geisha and Snowflower and the Secret Fan...books that transported me to a different era and immersed me in a different culture. I'll be picking us these books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the guest post!

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  10. Great review and rave. Glad you enjoyed it so much. Happy reading and have a great weekend.
    sherry @ fundinmental

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  11. Wow a new to me author and a FAB review that = its now on my list ;-)

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  12. Fantastic post, I love when an author pays attention to detail, historical facts and gives us authentic characters. Adding to my list!!

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  13. I've had my eye on these. I've read a couple Asian historicals and loved them. These sound colorful and rich, but I love that the intrigue is very present, too.

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  14. This is not my usual genre or read but it sure sounds intriguing.

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  15. Okay, I totally want to read these. From the descriptive setting (love that) to the tid bits that I didn't know (I had no idea about the concubines) this sounds intriguing! You totally sealed the deal with the characterization. Sounds like a great duology.

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  16. Thank you, for such a lovely post! These two books sound so lush in setting, historical details, and writing - I'm definitely going to check them out some more, Braine!! :)

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  17. Empress of the Bright Moon sounds wonderful, Braine. Both the setting, and the historical period makes me want to read this duology myself.
    I hope you're having a great weekend.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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  18. I love when the setting is described well be it a foreign setting or one I'm familiar with. I just love that element :)

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  19. I love how much you thought about these books before even writing them. Great covers.

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