This story is set in an Imperial China at a time of insurrection and war. Zhilan has been brought up as a girl, the daughter of a famous warrior and has been taught the martial arts that their father was renowned for; they also have a secret talent for illusionary magic. When the Emperor calls for men to join the army Zhilan decides to take the place of their father and dressing as a young man enrols as a foot soldier. Now known as Zhi they have their life altered dramatically as they save the life of their general, who happens to be the Emperor’s nephew. What follows is a dramatic story of politics and intrigue, where it is almost impossible to know who to trust. The final element of this story is the part that Zhi plays in saving the life of the Emperor and unveiling a traitor within the inner court circle.
This is a complex story that can be read at several different levels. For those who want to, this can be seen as a straightforward story of a young girl who is forced to take on the role of a man because of social restrictions and her need to maintain family honour. On the other hand this is a story of a young person and their struggle to learn their true identity as a human being. We live in a world where we are more aware of the variation in the way that people think of themselves and this story beautifully deals with the questions and uncertainties that Zhi feels as they travel through a period of discovery and understanding. The themes are treated sympathetically and with a light touch so that we are always empathetic to the struggles the Zhi has to cope with. This will make a superb addition to the school library and will hopefully help young people in their questions about their own gender.