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Jade Dragon Mountain

(Li Du #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  2,720 ratings  ·  566 reviews
On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost bar
Hardcover, 321 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Minotaur Books
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  2,720 ratings  ·  566 reviews

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A cozy read in which historical fiction and a murder mystery role along hand-in-hand.

Interesting cultural historical information are woven in and the tale of tea and politics come into play. A great whodunnit with a wonderful relaxation element to it.

A mixed cast of colorful characters fill the pages, including a determined botanist and a devoted storyteller. Astronomy is the main focus of the tale, centering around the creation of the annual calendar of astronomical events which was entrusted
I won this book through Goodreads for an honest review. My thanks to Goodreads and to Elsa Hart.

Jade Dragon Mountain is a book worth reaching for. Elsa Hart does a fine job of involving the reader in an 18th century mystery set in China. Through the main character of Li Du, the protaganist, we weave in an out of Chinese politics, art, literature, class status, and the ever-present Jesuits of the time. Li Du is an exiled librarian who makes an unavoidable visit to the city of Dayan where his cous
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
China – Three centuries ago
A Solar Eclipse that might change the course of a ruling dynasty
The Murder of a Jesuit priest
A Clash of Cultures in a distant corner of a vast empire

Elsa Hart deftly mixes a beautiful setting full of the sounds and smells of a 18th Century Chinese outpost with an iconic investigator’s insights into a murder that no official wants to acknowledge.

We follow Li Du, an exiled scholar, as he reluctantly gets involved in an investigation that his cousin, the provincial magi
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Colourful and interesting. I loved the scenes of 18th century China. Definitely worth reading!
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I was ten years old, my favorite possession was a Chinese coolie hat in pale aqua and tan. This was during the China phase of my life when I would sit in the school library during lunch and copy out the Chinese calligraphy from a Time-Life book on China. What a nerdy kid I was when not climbing trees. Who knows why the China bug bit me, but it has lasted a lifetime.
Needless to say, Elsa Hart’s novel Jade Dragon Mountain delivered a mountain of delights to me! Her novel, the first in a seri
Jade Dragon Mountain is part mystery, part historical fiction - mostly a perceptive window into a culture that believes itself to be exceptional and superior to the West. In 1708, as that exceptionalism is about to begin a slow decline. Hart introduces us to Li Du, a former government librarian, traveling through a part of China that is not entirely in support of the then-Emperor. The politics of the day drive everything - from the role of a concubine when her protector may take a promotion and ...more
Mar 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
What an outstanding book. A brilliant adjoining of history and mystery with an extremely intriguing main protagonist.

No doubt Hart spent painstaking time researching due to the attention paid to the smallest of details. You feel every bit of eighteenth century China lending a tactile feel in atmosphere alone. I enjoyed the mystery but the heavy history element captured my attention an added a dimensional ambiance to my reading adventure. The small remote village feel gives you a true essence to
Sandy Lu
This is a difficult book to get through. The writing style is odd and awkward. The characters are cardboard caricatures, but the non-Chinese characters fared better (every single Chinese character, except the protagonist, was depicted negatively). The dialogue came across as forced and often anachronistic. The author obviously wanted to show off what knowledge she had of Chinese culture by sprinkling old Chinese sayings without explaining them, even though they didn't always fit the context. The ...more
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book and hope there will be more written about Li Du, the traveling scholar. "Jade Dragon Mountain" takes place during the Qing dynasty mid 1600's in China. I enjoy reading about places and times I know I will never experience and Elsa Hart's writing was excellent for making the culture and environment a "major character" in this novel.

Li Du was a librarian in the Forbidden City when he was exiled from the capital. He wanders the countryside and is considered a traveling scholar. H
Li Du, banished royal librarian, has travelled to the far edge of China. When he pays a visit to his cousin, a magistrate, he learns that the Emperor is about to make an appearance, in conjunction with an eclipse of the sun. Li Du’s plans to hasten on his way are changed when a Jesuit monk, a guest of his cousin and an avid astronomer, is found dead. Was the death accidental? And if not, who could have wished ill upon the man?
I’ve had my eye on this mystery series for a year or so now, and
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
For anybody who likes to travel to exotic places and learn culture through reading fiction, this book is for you: a murder mystery set in Qing Dynasty, China during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722.) A Jesuit priest is murdered less than a week before the Emperor's visit to a rural village. An exiled cousin of the local magistrate (Li Du) stumbles into the situation. He is dissatisfied with the cover-up of the murder, and starts to look into the matter. As preparations continue, including ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A wonderful book that not only provides an interesting mystery, in a traditional style, but also effectively delivers vivid picture of 18th Century China, in its politics, environment, and society. Further, I got a strong sense of the world view, which was heavily cynical, of the residents of country on the verge of a dramatic shift from authoritarian isolation to sudden colonialization by a
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4
Plot: 4.5
Characters: 4
Emotional impact: 3.5
Overall rating: 4
I really enjoyed this mystery set in Imperial China. I felt immersed in the setting and intrigued by the story. I look forward to reading more in this series.
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a 3.5 star, better than a 3. Because it had quite a bit of redundancy in introducing so many different characters to this new series, I could not give it a full 4 star rating. But it holds precise characterizations in an intriguing era. And quite completely uncommon in the current mystery formats, this early 18th Century Southern China, Tibet! Not a Scandinavian bar or English village pub in sight.

Li Du is our wanderer who is in exile for 5 years at this point. He is the protagonist. Uni
The setting (1708 town of Dayan in China) and its collision of world views was fascinating, as was former librarian and exile Li Du, roped into investigating, by his Magistrate cousin, an unexpected and sudden death of a jovial Jesuit priest, there for the festivities surrounding an impending visit by the Emperor.
Li Du is careful, methodical, quiet, and perceptive, often gleaning much more from those around him than they expect, and unearthing multiple motives and conspiracies, and not all to do
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Van Gulik's "Judge Dee" mysteries
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: Magitte of Goodreads positive review
An aged Jesuit scholar gratefully notes that the water has already been prepared. And why not? After all, this was Yunnan Province, center of the finest teas in the Kingdom. Tea would steady his shaky nerves...

This is an unusual detective mystery set in the early years of the Q'ing Dynasty. Elsa Hart's sleuth is Li Du, an itinerant exiled scholar. His cousin Tulishen is the provincial magistrate of the remote wilderness province at the southern border of China. The contrast between the two cousi
It turned out that what I liked best about Jade Dragon Mountain was Hamza the storyteller. I thought he was the most intriguing character. I want to know more about him.

I also loved the role of libraries in this book. I was fascinated by the organization of the library that was most central to this book.

The resolution of the case wasn't completely unexpected, but the ending of the book was a total surprise. I am looking forward to Elsa Hart's next novel.

For the blog version of this review and
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked up the ARC at Book Expo America last May. Jade dragon Mountain is a refreshing change from many of the other ARCs publishers had out this year. For many, A Game of Thrones seems very much on the publishers radar. 'Grim is in' could easily have been this year's meme. I don't know about you, but I read enough dark tales in the news, and as much as I like AGOT (TV, really, not so much the books), I've had my fill of misery, depravity, and torture.

Jade Dragon Mountain is none of that. The
Susan Johnson
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

This is a debut novel about Li Du, an exiled librarian in China in 1708. He stops in Dayan where his cousin is the magistrate as prepares to leave China for the last time. His cousin is in the throes of preparation for the emperor is coming to view an eclipse that he supposedly causes by his power. The Jesuits actually predict the eclipse but the emperor takes the credit. During the feverish preparations, a Jesuit priest is murdered and the magistrate hires Du to discover the cause of
Aug 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
"Jade Dragon Mountain" is not necessarily a bad novel. I didn't hate it and... that's probably the only reason why I didn't drop it. But it honestly wasn't a book for me. I was immensely bored and there were times when I found it hard to focus on the narration. The mystery didn't interest me at all (when the murderer was revealed I only thought "oh, okay") and the stiff dialogues, one-dimensional characters and random story-telling parts (honestly, what was the point in including them?) did not ...more
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: overdrive, audio, dnf
Too many fables. Stilted dialog.
Book Concierge
Book on CD narrated by David Shih

This historical mystery is set in the town of Dayan, on the Chinese / Tibetan border, in 1708. The main character is Li Due, former Imperial Librarian, now in exile and on his way out of the country. When he arrives at Dayan, where his cousin is the magistrate, he is surprised by the bustle of activity. He was unaware that people are flocking to the town for a special visit by the Emperor who has promised to create an eclipse of the sun.

I loved the history in thi
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an elegantly written story set in one of the border regions of China during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, Qing Dynasty, as a lone exile is faced with solving the murder of a Jesuit astronomer. I have no familiarity with this time period in China but this book provided a window into the world that was not in any way intimidating. There is a second book in this series and I look forward to reading it.
Halfway through and I must pack it in... not the book for me at the moment. Dialogue dense, immensely detailed and turtle paced Jade Dragon Mountain is losing my interest far too easily; I simply don’t care a whit about any of the characters or the mysteries halfway through and am grimacing at the prospect of grinding until the end.

Lots to commend it.

“Novel thought”? Just put this one aside and let it be...
Oct 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Originally published at Reading Reality

I absolutely loved this book. I was swept away instantly, and remained fully immersed in the author’s world until the very last, reluctantly turned, page.

Jade Dragon Mountain reminds me of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, but upon analysis, I am not sure why. That I read The Name of the Rose 30 years ago does not help the comparison. But the feeling is still there.

While Rose has a library at its heart, the investigator in Jade, Li Du, is a librarian. An
3+ stars

Set on the border of China and Tibet in the 18th century in view of Jade Dragon Mountain, banished librarian Li Du takes it on himself to find out who murdered a Jesuit priest by poison even though his cousin, a combination between a sycophant and a jobsworth, is more concerned with keeping up appearances with the imminent arrival of the emperor for a full eclipse of the sun.

Hart has written a promising debut novel, and I plan to read the second book in this series. What's more, she was
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found myself appreciating "Jade Dragon Mountain" more for the historical narrative, folkloric tidbits, and cast of characters than I did for the overarching mystery, though Hart has certainly still crafted a compelling debut, as well as an intriguing investigator in Li Du. The large cast of supporting characters was handled exceptionally well. I especially admired the attention paid to China's numerous ethnic groups (e.g. Khampa, Manchu), not something I've encountered in much China-based hist ...more
Debra King
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Set in China in 1708, Jade Dragon Mountain is a murder mystery involving the sudden death of a Jesuit astronomer, Brother Pieter, visiting the southern city of Dayan where the Emperor will arrive for the first time to usher in the eclipse of the sun, cementing his power and majesty over the region. The Emperor has extended invitations to foreigners, a rarity, to witness this event at a festival in his honor overseen by the local magistrate, Tulishen. However, it will be Tulishen's exiled cousin, ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
This book has everything: History, mystery, folk tales, enthralling settings, fascinating characters, and surprise after surprise. Excellent plotting and gorgeous writing. My favorite fiction read of the year.

The story is set in a remote province of southwest China in 1708. Li Du, a former imperial librarian now exiled by the Emperor due to his (unwitting) association with a traitor, is an itinerant scholar who has lived away from society for years. He has come to Dayan, where his cousin is the
Becka Burgess
Feb 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Yay! I've finished my January book finally!

So this book is a historical murder mystery set in old China.
It's about an exiled scholar Li Du who happens to be passing through a town that his cousin Tulishen presides as magistrate. In a twist of fate, Li Du who just wants to be granted access to get to the next town gets caught up in solving a murder. It's a 7 day race against time to wrap things up and dust them under the carpet before the Emperor arrives to execute his conjuring of the solar ecli
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Elsa Hart is the author of three acclaimed mystery novels set in eighteenth-century China. The most recent, City of Ink, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018. The daughter of a journalist, Elsa was born in Rome and spent much of her childhood abroad, attending international schools in Moscow and Prague. She is drawn to stories about travelers throughout history, and likes to put her o ...more

Other books in the series

Li Du (3 books)
  • The White Mirror (Li Du, #2)
  • City of Ink (Li Du, #3)

Articles featuring this book

Exiled from Beijing, a librarian investigates the murder of an astronomer in Jade Dragon Mountain, a twisting historical mystery set in...
28 likes · 6 comments
“He imagined then that the shifting clouds contained thousands of years, and that he had seen the same tree in two different times. What if every moment of that tree's existence, the whole of its past and its future, existed at once, here in this blank and infinite cloud? An eerie suggestion of his own insubstantiality pulled at him. He, too, was inside the void.” 4 likes
“Ambassadors. Trade. Diplomacy. These subjects make me feel that I have fallen into a swamp and am breathing mud. I will go to the mansion and eavesdrop on the servants.” 3 likes
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