Set in distant in a China-like country at the height of its power but at the brink of its downfall. One seemingly inconsequential man, Shen Tai, is thrust into a position of import after he is gifted with 250 of the uber-valuable Sardian horses. A man owning one of two of these horses is enough to change his fortune - 250 is absurd and guarantees that Tai's life will never be the same.
I was torn as to how to rate this book. The first half to three quarters was excellent but somewhere in book III it starts to lose its narrative thread and begins determinedly to meander. It also expands in scope, stripping away the technique of presenting epic events through a smaller and more personal lense that for me gave the book its readability. Through the first half, it promises to be the story of the Shen family; Tai, Li-mei, and Liu; as they play disparate but equally important roles in the events shaking their country. This is what made the first half of the book engrossing and the book just does not work as well when it moves away from this more intimate portrait of important events. I had to struggle to get through the last 50 pages because I just didn't care anymore.
The first part of thsi is really excellent however and the setting and culture presented is done incredibly well. I did struggle a bit with some of the cultural (or maybe character)contradictions that are presented such as Tai being willing to give away all 250 horses to save his sister from being used as a pawn but he has no problem using women in a brothel. There are some personal reasons why he is upset about his sisters particular destination so maybe that's enough to explain the his mixed reaction to women.
Overall if it had stuck to the format presented in the early parts this would have been a 4 or even 5 star book. The disppointing second half knocks it down.