This is a fascinating timeslip story, featuring a young girl Sarah Livingstone, who lives in Beijing with her Scottish father and Chinese mother. On a school visit to the Beijing Palace Museum her class get to look at the ancient Qingming Scroll, a remarkable 12th century scroll showing life in the capital Bianjing at the time of the Qingming festival (not modern-day Beijing). When Sarah finds herself transported back in time to this period she is scared, confused and longing to find a way back home. She finds herself involved in conspiracies and has to face up to criminal gangs and even ancient magic. There is also a parallel story beginning at the time of the scroll and which centres around a young man called Shan Mu; having lost his parents and younger brother to bandits he starts on a journey of vengeance, which will carry through generations, to the modern day. How these two elements interlink and what Sarah’s role in the process will be, is something that we are just discovering in this first of a series.
When visiting the museum, the pupils look at a section of the scroll which shows a large boat about to hit the foundations of the Rainbow bridge in the city, during the festival of Qingming, which translates as being ‘Tomb sweeping day’, in which families and clans visit the graves of their ancestors and clean the graves, to remember and bring honour to their forebearers. Sarah undertakes this task during her time in the past and it helps bring her closer to her mother’s heritage. I would strongly suggest that readers should look up images of the scroll as the workmanship is exquisite and the illustrations are full of life and of a stunning complexity. There are strong themes about family in this book, both for Sarah and for Shan Mu, but this also involves accepting who you are and not being eaten up by revenge and being put down by bullying. The magical elements of this story are gradually building and Sarah begins to realize that she is seeing things that others can’t; she still needs to find out what she is meant to do and what does the prophesy mean about there being three? We are going to have to read the next book to find out.