The Critics said....

From Publishers Weekly

Set in eighth century China during the T'ang dynasty, this massive historical novel quickly captures the imagination while its accuracy of detail rewards readers interested in the period. In the glittering court of Emperor Minghuang, the death of the young crown prince sets off whispers of murder. On the heels of this tragedy, Minghuang is forced to banish his beloved empress for the crime of dabbling in witchcraft. While the emperor slips into a terrible depression, his sly, deceitful chief minister gathers power. Kao Li-Shih, the sharp-witted chief eunuch, reawakens Minghuang by sending him the beauteous Precious Consort, but love only causes China's ruler to further neglect his duties. Precious Consort's sisters, the Yangs, are a delicious parody of the three graces as they glide through the palace with their bitchy, amusing chatter hiding swift intelligence. As a spirit of decadence takes hold in the court, the Yangs mistakenly champion the barbarian general An Lu-Shan, a laughing trickster who eventually moves to crush the T'ang dynasty despite all that Kao Li-Shih does to stop him. Vivid characters and alluring descriptions make this first novel by a gifted team a triumphant mix of fact and fiction. 

Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


From the San Jose Mercury-News, Sunday Arts and Books, Feb. 5. 1989:


Intrigue in ancient China
by Mark Johnson
In 1975,  James Clavell's "SHOGUN" popularized Asia as a setting for a popular novel. Novelists have since tilled those  fields with great enthusiasm and mixed success.
THE COURT OF THE LION: A Novel of the T'ang Dynasty by Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri is in the tradition of "SHOGUN" in several ways.  Although it is about 8th-century China, not 17th-century Japan, it shares that novel's huge canvas and heavenly--if you liked it--length.  It is also about struggles for power in a court that was famous long ago and far away.
Let me lay my  cards on the table, though: THE COURT OF THE LION is the better novel.  It is more successful in  balancing its great events and personal stories, more tautly plotted, richer in character, and simply more poetic.
It also cuts across the grain of  the current popular novel. Where SHOGUN gave us the action through the eyes of a lusty English hero, there are no Occidentals in THE COURT OF THE LION, and the hero, if he may be called such, is a eunuch. Many readers will find compelling characters here, but few will be taking the easy paths of ethnic and sexual affinity. 
In the year 738, the emperor of China is the learned and kindhearted T'ang Minghuang, under whom the nation has prospered.  Minghuang is unhinged, however, by tragedies:
His eldest son, Crown Prince Ying, dies, an apparent suicide; and he is compelled to banish his beloved empress for using Taoist witchcracft in an attempt to  conceive a child.  Empress Wang, dishonored, kills herself.   Minghuang descends into despair and lethargy, leaving his governance to the bureaucrats.
These events are not accidents. Kao Li-shih, chief court eunuch and  confidant to the emperor, learns that the deaths were cunningly engineered by the empire's chief minister, Li Lin-fu, who now is virtual ruler of China. Li is an adversary of unmatchable depth and subtlety, and he's even crueler than tthat.  Kao Li-shih has to bring the emperor back to his senses or all will be lost.
To this end, Kao chooses a woman, the exquisite Yang Kuei-fei.  With Kao's connivance, she seduces the emperor, and Minghuang again has reason to live.
But the gambit works all too well. Minghuang is drunk with love.  Yang, his new Precious Consort, brings her pleasure-loving sisters and cousin to  the court, which swirls with unchecked gaiety and licentiousness--as the grip of Li Lin-fu imperceptibly tightens.
In their quest for novelty, the Yang sisters bring to the court General An Lu-shan, barbarian-born leader of a Chinese border army.  An Lu-shan, a formidable warrior, amuses the court by playing the buffoon, dressing his 400-odd pounds in women's clothing or baby's diapers and drinking and carousing with the emperor through the night.

As his familiarity with the emperor grows, so does his power.  He is, however, not the teddy bear he seems.  He is a killer.  He is ambitious. And he has the army.  He does not however, have Li Lin-fu, who is not amused.

The Precious Consort's cousin, Yang Kuo-chung, is also a vexation to the chief minister.  Belying his playboy image, he has obtained directly from the emperor a series of key posts that Li Lin-fu had regarded as his  own to bestow. Now he is interfering with Li's plans for Chinese expansion and conquest in the North.  And he appears  to be entirely too close to the emperor's meddlesome euncuh, Kao Li-shih.

So who is really conspiring with whom? Is the fawning An Lu-shan more dangerous to the emperor or to  Li Lin-fu?  Is Li the master or the creature of his own designs? As he nears death from tuberculosis, what will happen to his plans, and who will succeed him?
Will the consuming love of the Precious Consort be Minghuang's salvation, or his destruction? And can Kao Li-shih, the emperor's lifelong friend as well as his employee, use his own skills and talents of the court eunuchs' small but fearsome Flying Dragon Elite to keep the empire intact? 
All of this, and much more, is worked out in a novel that catches much of the vastness and variety of China, from the barren, storm-swept plains of the North to the bustling capital of Ch'ang An to the seductive imperial hot-springs and pleasure gardens.
The story is told with much attention to history, poetry, the lore of Confucianism and Taoism, and the intricate relationship of the eternal yin and yang.  For all its complexity, it is remarkably easy--even irresistible--to read.



--Mary Stewart, author of THE LAST ENCHANTMENT

"The best historical novel about ancient China in many years. Great fun, memorable characters, cataclysmic events, monumental wickedness, all portrayed with considerable accuracy and verve."                                     

--Sterling Seagrave


 "Dense and entertaining...We are plunged into the beautiful but eerie world of the T'ang Court. A fine excursion to a distant time, place and mindset."

--KIRKUS Reviews



"The story of maneuvering for power is one that rivals anything that might be written about Imperial Russia or medieval Europe....It leaves one fully satisfied, impressed by the authors' research and writing."


"Glamorous actors in a different kind of dynasty...like an enormous, powerful spell. Elegant, convincing..."



"A vivid and intelligent entertainment."



 "Corruption, intrigue, greed and opulence....Glorious!"



"The intricate tapestry of eighth-century China unfolds as slowly and artistically as a lotus blossom in this spellbinding novel with believable characters. Highly recommended."



 "Dramatically brings to life the intrigue surrounding eighth-century China's T'ang Dynasty....a richly compelling and well-plotted novel."



 "This book is a brilliant mingling of historical fact and fiction."



"A rewarding experience as huge as James Clavells's Shogun. But better."



"One of the best historical novels I've ever read."



 "A world of wealth, uninhibited sensuality and violence is lavishly and unforgettably recreated in THE COURT OF THE LION."

--BOOKS TODAY (London)


Latest comments

08.03 | 09:51

Checking whether the domment replies have been fixed

12.02 | 19:49

I've always held a special pace in my heart for your the "Court of the Li...

18.11 | 00:53

Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Byrnes. It was indeed a shock, ...

14.11 | 14:10

Terrible shocking news. R I P, Mr. Altieri. Condolences to Mrs. Altieri , yo...