About the book
Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.
In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.
It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.
Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?
Set along a small stretch of the Great Wall in 14th century China, a series of events that occurred twenty years before the novel begins returns to haunt the characters, which include a young wall guard, a disabled man and his mother, a promising law student, the town governor, some Taoist monks, and a beggar king.
This book is an exciting mystery adventure, that has at its heart a personal story of revenge, and provides spiritual forces to fight a physical battle.
I loved the spiritual aspects of this book. Taoist monks and Mongolian shamans have a large role to play in the plot, and I found the imagery of the Mongol’s blue wolf battling against the Chinese yellow dragon striking and powerful.
The details about the Tao, and how it influenced the everyday life of the characters, were great. I particularly liked the yin-yang eyes, which allowed the gifted to see spirits.
Luli, the only female character of note (A dying mother, a devious maid, and a couple of prostitutes comprise the other women in the novel) was my favorite character, mostly because she was the keeper of the Po Office, where she looked after letters from the dead to pass down to their descendants and spiritual successors. I also admired her strength against adversity, and her loving devotion to her disabled son.
This book has a rich, exciting plot that covers lots of topics – mystery, espionage, torture, disability, coming of age, revenge. The setting is interesting and the cast of characters, seemingly disparate at first, come together in a satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, I found the style of writing distanced me from the story at times. It veered between being overly descriptive and not descriptive enough, usually omniscient narration, but occasionally dipping into a more limited point of view. I’m sure others will gel with it better than I did.
Overall, I enjoyed this adventure, especially the parts concerning ghosts, spirits and forces beyond the material realm.
I award The Old Dragon’s Head…
About the author
JUSTIN NEWLAND was born in Essex, England, three days before the end of 1953. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.
Justin gives author talks in libraries and does books signings in Waterstones, WH Smiths and indie bookshops. He has appeared at literary festivals and regularly gives media interviews.
He writes secret histories in which real events and historical personages are guided and motivated by numinous and supernatural forces – that’s history with a supernatural twist.