Rating: 4.5 of 5
Author: Edward C. Patterson
Available: Paperback, Kindle
After relocating from New York City to take on the position of a lifetime, sinologist Professor Rowden Gray learns upon his arrival that his position at the San Francisco Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture has been eliminated. Furious with the last minute turn of events, Gray stumbles upon Nick Battle who is none other than the son of Gray’s long time mentor – John Battle. Gray finds that Nick possesses The Jade Owl an ancient Chinese relic previously believed to be the stuff of legend. They discover that The Jade Owl may open a sister relic The Joy of Finches held captive in the Museum’s Asian display. Together they find The Jade Owl to be more than a relic, but the key to finding the lost tomb of the only empress to rule over the middle kingdom – Wu Tze-t’ien.
An eclectic expedition team including Gray, Nick, Nick’s life partner and drag queen – Simone, a one-eyed Cherokee – Griffen, and Chinese American martial arts expert – Audrey, set out to return The Jade Owl to the empress. However, the Owl reveals itself to be much more than a relic, but a vessel for controlling, channeling, and altering Chi creating unspeakable power. These China Hands must return the Owl in time or unleash it’s dangers to the world.
In The Jade Owl, Edward C. Patterson does a masterful job at taking the reader deep into a journey of China’s cultural treasures. The history, foods, people, architecture, politics, even aromas of Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin, are carefully and beautifully conveyed and Patterson’s expertise in this area shines. He has also created characters so real that one feels they are reading a diary of life experiences as opposed to fictional fantasy. As a result, The Jade Owl has all of the intrigue and interest of an Indiana Jones mystery but is grounded in the reality of true to life characters making it more satisfying in the end.
My only hesitation to giving this novel 5 stars was the lack of conflict and action driving the first half of the book. While the mystery of The Jade Owl is the backbone of the story, it seemed to fade to the background in the first half in favor of the rich cultural excursions the expedition team took as they traveled China. None-the-less, this is a very satisfying read and Patterson is a very accomplished writer.
For those looking for the cultural intrigue of the middle kingdom and a fantastical mystery involving ancient relics of a long forgotten empress, The Jade Owl delivers. It is the first of the five book Jade Owl legacy.