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3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  3,570 ratings  ·  292 reviews
A ravishing historical novel of one of China's most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

In seventh–century China, during the great Tang dynasty, a young girl from the humble Wu clan entered the imperial gynaecium, which housed ten thousand concubines. Inside the Forbidd
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Harper (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Tea Jovanović
Ova knjiga je bila najprodavaniji naslov Lagune 2006. godine, što mi je posebno drago (u smislu da mi je urednička procena bila dobra)... Ovo je knjiga za sve one koji vole dobar istorijski egzotični roman... i Kinu... I sve one koji su čitali knjigu "Šljivin cvet u vazi od zlata"... :)
This book took on a whole new take of Chinese History. It portrayed an important historical figure in a personal and never before seen way. Empress Wu was the first woman emperor to ever take the throne. It was traditionally carried on by heirs of the previous emperor, but during the Tang Dynasty, the emperor lacked the capability to successfully control the nation without the help of Wu Ze Tian (the empress). And when the emperor passes away, the only person that the nation could be entrusted t ...more
This book was lushly written, with a meticulous eye for detail, but it was little impersonal and distant for me. Although the twisted politics were interesting, I wasn't engaged at all with any of the characters. It was a bit like being underwater, hearing a conversation from another room.

There was actually far too much detail about certain ceremonies - I started thinking about the paraodic detail in The Princess Bride while I was reading - and not enough information on the people involved. I di
Aku adalah peony merah merona, pohon berayun, angin berdesir ...

Jujur, saya harus membuka wikipedia untuk mengetahui, sejenis apakah peony itu? Ternyata, akhirnya bertemu makna. Peony adalah sejenis bunga yang sering digunakan oleh bangsa Tiongkok untuk pengobatan. Juga sering menjadi simbol pada seni ornamen. Terbata-bata, saya mencoba mencari benang merah yang menghubungkan antara peony merah merona dengan pribadi Maharani Wu, Sang Kaisar Suci Roda Emas Cahaya Nirwana.
Cahaya Nirwana, lahir da
Thomas Alexander
There's a story behind my reading this book. I am, by habit a reader of 'genre fiction' which means stories about Spaceman Gort and the Flying Death Pygmies of Planet Bimbotron and things like that. At the Barnes and Noble I typically shop for books at, the Spaceman Gort section is crammed far into the back, covered in cobwebs, and filled with a droning voice that tells you how ashamed you should be for reading this drivel.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

On the way to Spaceman Gort and the lovely ladies of
Bryn Hammond
The ‘great man theory’ of history is out of fashion, and I don’t know how often historical fiction, either, sets out to portray greatness – whatever that is – in the political sphere. In this book I found myself convinced I was in the presence of greatness, a person I want to call great, and to add to that uncommon experience, she’s a woman.

If any of that sounds easy, I don’t think it is. At a point in this book it dawned upon me that in historical fiction, I haven’t met a great woman before –
Heyrebekah Alm
What an awful book! I am so disappointed, because I read The Girl Who Played Go a few years ago and thought that was fantastic.

The writing in this book is just far too lush and overwrought. It feels like the author put so much effort into crafting each dramatic sentence that she forgot to put in any kind of plot or sympathetic characters. Granted, the main character was a pretty horrific person in her lifetime, so Shan Sa didn't have much to work with there as far as making her likeable. But the
There's a story behind my reading this book. I am, by habit a reader of 'genre fiction' which means stories about Spaceman Gort and the Flying Death Pygmies of Planet Bimbotron and things like that. At the Barnes and Noble I typically shop for books at, the Spaceman Gort section is crammed far into the back, covered in cobwebs, and filled with a droning voice that tells you how ashamed you should be for reading this drivel.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

On the way to Spaceman Gort and the lovely ladies o
"Abundance" in 7th Century China. The rigid palace protocol and machinations to gain power were virtually identical. Apparently the French peasants took a page from the Chinese book during the Reign of Terror, as parading heads on sticks was much in vogue during both eras. Other similarities include the outrageous hairstyles and over-the-top dressing. But the randy Bourbon kings had nothing on the emperors of China, who kept as many as 10,000 concubines at one time!

In sum, the underlying theme o
Dec 30, 2007 Jocelyn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Chinese history
The author Shan Sa is a native Chinese woman. She wrote this book in French, and it was then translated into English (and other languages). What amazed me was the beauty of the language Sa used to describe the opulent scenes in an ancient Chinese palace in the 7th century A.D. The historical detail was amazing, including descriptions of life within the palace, rituals and beliefs, day to day life in ancient China, how commoners outside the palace survived, how the government was run, and so on. ...more
I've noticed that most poets are not particularly good at writing novels (they are much better at crafting short stories). Perhaps this is why I found Shan Sa's book something of a surprise. The author's voice is highly distinct. The writing is poetic, but don't let this fool you. Although the passages are often lyrical, Shan Sa has shown an admirable attention to detail. I fully agree with one of the other Goodreads reviewers, who made a connection between Sa's skill as a painter and her writin ...more
Michelle Merriman
When I bought this book years ago, I couldn't make it through the first chapter. I was young (...well, younger) and the abstract concept of womb memories wasn't something I necessarily felt capable of grasping. But I picked it up a long time later and I'm thankful I never got rid of it in my adolescent naivete because this book is a force, in language, in storytelling, in characters; it's a truly lush, decadent and engrossing piece of narrative. I am fascinated by any culture not closely related ...more
I was very excited to see that someone had written a novel about Empress Wu, 武则天 my favourite Chinese historical figure. Empress Wu is the only woman to reign China as an Emperor ruling from 690-705AD as head of her own dynasty. It is my hope to be able to write a popular history book about Wu Zetian. Last year I wrote a very long essay about her use of religion in legitimising her rule and I was thrilled to see that all these events were mentioned in this novel! This book was only the fourth bo ...more
I was unimpressed by this novel. The narrator's voice seemed very authentic, as though she actually wrote it back in AD 680, but unfortunately that meant that it was exceedingly dry, mostly consisting of lists of what was in her many parades, how much gold she used building monuments, who she decided to have exiled or beheaded, etc. The most sexy parts (where characters get seduced and so forth) was sullied by the fact that the narrator seemed to have no emotions.

Actually, the lack of emotion wa
“I announced to the world the beginning of my dynasty, the Zhou dynasty. Its peace and prosperity would be inaugerated by the Era of the Celestial Mandate. Cheers from officials and shouts of joy from the people rang out.”

Empress is a novel about the life of Empress Wu, a fascinating woman who rose from the ranks of an almost commoner, to one of the 10,000 concubines during the Tang dynasty, and finally, to the title of Emperor herself. She was the first and only female emperor in Chinese hist
This was an interesting read, at worst. At best, it was a great insight into the mind of a historical figure that until now has been known primarily as a manipulative, arrogant, greedy woman whose every move (mostly immoral in nature) were geared toward getting to the throne. Not knowing anything about the history of this time period or the woman herself, I can’t say myself which version is closer to the truth, though I’d be interested to know just what Sa discovered when she was doing the exten ...more
Sherry H
Oh, dear lord, this was a boring book.

Because the subject is historically significant, I felt obligated to keep reading. What a chore that was. I skimmed, and still had to finally throw in the towel without finishing the last 50 pages or so.

The story of the Empress is told in the first person, from before her birth until, well, I don't really know how it ended, do I? But since she narrated her time in the womb, and her birth, I assume the book ends with her description of her death and funeral,
You'd think by the face i finished this book in one day would mean i found it suburb... well... not really. I found the premises of the book really interesting and was looking forward to reading about China's first female emperor. The writing was beautiful, unfortunately the character was not so. The character of Wu is a complicated one and i think i was supposed to form some sympathy with her. Instead she came off a bit harpyish. Though in her position where woman are regarded less than horses ...more
I am completely fascinated with China's pre-20th c. history (especially the T'ang Dynasty). Empress Wu ZeTien is one of my heroines - the only woman to rule China in her own right.

"Empress: A Novel" is, as the cover review says, "Luxurious and intelligent" and not for those who are looking for a quick read. Shan Sa has captured the lyrical style of literature that reads as if it has been translated, so this is a cadence to it that shows a deep understanding not only of the subject but also of t
This novel was beautifully, poetically written. The story of the one and only female emperor of China was fascinating. The reason I'm giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is, ironically, what made it so great: it was full of detail, twists, and drama. This meant I really had to be focused to read it, which unfortunately, made me avoid doing so because it felt a little too much like work, even though I found the story very interesting and did want to know what happened next. It was heavy reading ...more
I got this book in a bargain bin. You can definitely tell this author primarily writes poetry and not novels.

I powered through it.... But I wouldn't recommend it. It is extremely complicated without giving much explanation. The author must assume that the reader has prior knowledge of the bloodlines of this particular dynasty. Maybe everybody else does but I don't :)

The only good character development was of the main character. The other MANY characters never seem to get s chance to have any dep
Liezel Pheiffer blignaut
I picked this treasure of a book up in a Hotel room in Cambodia - thank you to whoever left it there. Shan Sa has the ability to transport you to another world from the very 1st page. The book is beautifully written from the Empress' perspective, and through Shan Sa's poetic literature you can see, experience, feel, hear everything as if you are in another world in another time - poetic literature that amazingly did not get lost in translation. It left me intrigued to know how much of this piece ...more
This book was torture to read. I suggest you save yourself time and just read the Wikipedia article on Empress Wu instead at From it, you can get the basics of the empress's interesting life and you won't have to endure horrid writing. Aside from Sa Shan being a terrible writer, I have a hunch Hunter is a poor translator. More importantly, this book needed a good editor - someone talented and hard-working. Shame on Harper for letting the book get published ...more
Aug 02, 2014 Filipa added it
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Katherine St. Vincent 黄爱芬
Setelah membaca buku ini sampai selesai, memang isi buku ini myaris mirip dengan buku Putri Langit karangan Nigel Cawthorne, walau ada perbedaan2 sedikit seperti berikut ini:
- Cahaya Nirwana atau calon Wu Zetian ini dalam buku ini dikatakan diperawani oleh sang Putra Mahkota, tp menurut sumber2 lain yg kubaca, beliau diperawani oleh Kaisar Tang Tai Zong sebagaimana peringkatnya sebagai Selir tingkat Lima. Agak mustahil klo beliau diperawani oleh Putra Mahkota mengingat umur Putra Mahkota jg lebi
Morgan Dhu
Shan Sa's novel Empress (Impératrice in the original French) is a lyrical and panoramic imagining of the life of the only woman to ever rule in China as Empress Regnant, the Empress Wu Zetian. Born to a wool merchant and his second wife, the young Zetian was noticed for her intelligence and beauty at an early age and selected to be one of the Emperor's hundreds of concubines.

Starting from the limited record that remains about the Empress - much of it preserved (and hence somewhat suspect) by eit
well-researched and well-written account of an empress whose family made the Borgias look like the Bradys. You actually feel empathy at times for this egocentric, power-hungry monster of a woman, which is a bit scary considering she did poison her own sister, banish her sons and order the murder of her grandson.
Set in seventh century China, this historical fiction novel poignantly and powerfully and artfully describes the life of the first and only, and quite controversial, empress of China. Brilliant! I hear Shan Sa's book "The Girl who Played Go" is also a great read.
I found this book somewhat entertaining. A better grounding of Chinese history may have helped, but I had some experience with Chinese art of the period so I was pleased at the immersive writing style.
Wendy Lu
missed this kind of language :) was v. excited to start this, must find some nonfic on subject
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Unable to Finish This Book 12 46 Sep 10, 2012 05:48PM  
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Shan Sa is a French author born in Beijing in 1972. The Girl Who Played Go was the first of her novels to be published outside of France. It won the Goncourt des Lycéens Prize in 2001 and earned critical acclaim worldwide. Her second novel to appear in English translation is "The Empress" (2006).

Shan Sa was born on October 26, 1972 in Beijing to a scholarly family . Her real name is Yan Ni Ni, the
More about Shan Sa...
The Girl Who Played Go Alexander and Alestria Les Quatre vies du saule Porte De La Paix Céleste Les conspirateurs

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“Endless moons, an opaque universe, thunder, tornadoes, the quaking earth. Rare moments of peace; forehead up against my knees, arms around my head, I though, I listened, I longed not to exist. but life was there, a transparent pearl, a star revolving slowly on its own axis.” 47 likes
“The moon in all her immaculate purity hung in the sky, laughing at this world of dust. She congratulated me for my carefully considered maneuvers and invited me to share in her eternal solitude.” 45 likes
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