The Critics Said:

From Kirkus Reviews

From the authors of The Court of the Lion (1989): another wittily plotted and peopled, richly entertaining scan of base acts in high places in ancient China, this set during the seventh- century ascendancy and blistering reign of the Empress Wu. Meanwhile, ever so carefully circling amongst webs of deception and evil deeds is the sleuth/magistrate Dee Jen-Chieh (a real personage also seen in Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries series). ``It is interesting to sit in the presence of a true killer,'' magistrate Dee will remark of the Empress Wu after his own days of turmoil are over. But long before his first one-on-one view of Wu, Dee is launched upon sleuthing an ever-accelerating series of crimes after he witnesses the execution of a pathetic, betrayed, simple gardener. And in the imperial city Loyang, the wee newborn daughter of the Lady Wu (consort of the Emperor Kaotsung), is dispatched by Mummy with suffocation. As the Lady Wu wafts upward toward Empress--thanks to the counsel of her mother, Mme. Yang; an icy, unclouded ambition; and tactical brilliance--various relatives, sons, and lovers--as well as an Emperor and his venerable powerful advisors--fall like sheaves. The intrigued magistrate, already involved in solving the murders of wealthy "suicides'' found floating in the canal, suggests that Tibetan monk/magician Hsueh Huai-i spy in the palace in Loyang. (The monk is also a real person--a Rasputin to the Empress.) Eventually, Hsueh blooms in royal favor and gains political control over all agencies of a state religion, encouraging a kind of extravagant practice of Buddhism--in the light of rationalist Confucianism, an "alien'' excess. Hsueh, however, has an even darker obsession. Skillfully, Dee solves horrendous murders, escapes death himself, suffers his own awful family, lures the corrupt into his net--and, at the last, sees into the heart of Wu: "Like an ancient cave uninhabited for centuries, a stillness and emptiness...." In concept, balance, and wit: a simply splendid entertainment.

Copyright 1993, Kirkus Associates, LP.


From Library Journal

This book's main characters, Magistrate Dee and Empress Wu Tse-tien, are historical figures who lived at a calamitous and well-recorded moment in seventh-century Chinese history. Dee is a detective whose investigation into the murder of the transport minister shows his intelligence, integrity, and faithfulness to traditional, rational Confucian principles. At the same time, Madame Wu, chief consort of Emperor Kao-tsung, schemes to depose his empress and wield absolute power as ruler of China. Eventually, Dee and Empress Wu are brought together. He discovers the truth of the numerous murders she has committed as she seeks to usurp the ancient T'ang dynasty and replace it with her own Chou dynasty, founded on a corrupt form of Buddhism that relies on magic, superstition, and deceit. This second novel about ancient China (following the authors' Court of the Lion , Avon, 1990) is recommended for popular collections.

Copyright 1993, Reed Business Information, Inc. 


 "Wonderful...compelling...a hard-driven saga of good and evil without the car chases. Enough beheadings, poisonings and back-stabbings, both literal and figurative, to bloody a whole series of books..."

--San Francisco Chronicle

"A first-rate historical mystery, absorbing from the very first sentence. Cooney and Altieri's ability to make the surroundings, events, and cast of characters believable renders the seventh century as vivid as our own. A sopisticated tapestry of intrigue and ambition...Historical novels of this quality are few and far between."

--Publishers Weekly (starred)

"Utterly absorbing...plots turn within plots...both a well-crafted mystery and a rich historical novel."

--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"IRON EMPRESS is a triumph. If P.D. James and Umberto Eco collaborated on a novel set in T'ang China, it might be like this."

--Sterling Seagrave

"The back cover text compares this book to THE NAME OF THE ROSE. This is totally inappropriate. IRON EMPRESS is much better by far: More gripping, more understandable, much more readable....A work at once entertaining and fascinating....enlightening, illuminating, boiling with surprises and alive with totally novel imagery....

--Le Figaro, Paris

"A superb historical novel, hailed unanimously by the press...draws us behind the scenes into the most secret of human societies. A reflection on the power, corruption and grandeur of a decadent world."

--Le Monde (Paris)

"Unique and absolutely delightful...I loved it."

--Martin Cruz Smith

"...A skittish dance on the razor's edge of paranoia."

--Sunday San Francisco Chronicle-Examiner

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...