To end of ep 5. Oh Fu Chai you are such a manly man, except that even after three days in a wooden stocks you don't need to shave, lucky Mr Peachfuzz. Equally, I think even without my FL's collective encomia I'd have liked Wen Zhong, if only for the way he cuts straight through Shi Mai's slippery soap and slithery slime.
For someone who's supposed to be a soldier, yanno, Shi Mai spends a lot of time a) in mufti and b) hanging about the king's side. Doesn't Yue have a 相國 / chancellor/ whatever of its own? Or does Shi Mai do double duty?
One benefit or drawback, TYP, of not knowing what the man's saying and even more important, how he says it, and most important of all, who are all the other characters through time who've said the same things, is that I judge him from his mannerisms: and from his mannerisms he looks to my cultural prejudices far too much like Polonius to be taken seriously. (No really, I thought that from ep 1. The scene with Yuan Luo was just gravy.) I cut him slack because y'all said he was subtle and hard to pin down. But sheesh- the smirking preening look on his face while Tang Li tells him he can look forward to considerable reee-muuuu-ner-raaay-shun when her son is king was enough to put me off him right there. Culture again- there may be material advantages attached to faithful service, and it may be permissable to mention them in China for all I know otherwise, but over here that sort of thing starts the BRIBE bells sounding loudly. It's in bad taste, if nothing else, and a man of culture conveys as much- and not with a happy smiling "You do me too much honour."
Otherwise yes indeed- Hao Jing and Fu Tong, theirloveissocorrect. Who also look like honourable men to my round eyes.
Equally I finished The Janissary Tree last night. The historical detail is fascinating: that truly is what one reads the book for. The murder mystery is just an extra. I was amused on starting it to find the murder echoing that in The Lake Ching Murders, with the difference that I was quite ready to accept the former while the latter struck me as operatic and silly and unlikely. Flashy gimmickey grand guignol seems not wholly impossible in Ottoman Constantinople- the Ottomans did a lot of stuff that looks demented to us and Byzantium has always been, well, a Byzantine place. (Read Peter Dickinson's The Dancing Bear for a fascinating example of same, should it still be in print. Like, laws to regulate the amount of the bribes an official is allowed to accept?) But it's so not the style of good grey Communist China.
However after I finished, the murders and the schtick began to bother me more.
Some governments do indeed kill innocent people, and occasionally lots of innocent people, but they don't do it by murdering them in grotesque and unlikely fashions and setting up theatrical tableaux with the corpses to make a point. They especially don't do it to make the point to a single individual, the enlightened detective. Books where that happens strike me as male fantasies where the book's world revolves around a single male who only too obviously stands in for the author. The idea that a government agency would even take the trouble to murder ordinary citizens as part of a convoluted scheme to convey a sinister message to whoever can read it is nuts. I feel it can only come from an author, and only be accepted by readers, paranoid enough to believe that governments are fundamentally motivated by malice, and silly enough to think governments capable of acting with a focussed intelligence. Maybe it's me being Canadian, but I never attribute to governmental malice that which is far more easily explained by governmental stupidity. In this I understand I differ from a lot of Americans, for whom government per se is the Lord of the Flies. I still think I'm right and they're wrong, and books that require conspiracy theories to work depress me.
But if I needed any more proof that Janissary is a male fantasy at heart, I need only refer you to the eunuch protagonist. OK, we know he was cut after puberty because he has a moustache and so he might be capable of sexual arousal. Do we really need to have him copulating mightily and repeatedly with the beautiful wife of the Russian ambassador, who is clad only in a fur cape and who makes a dead set at him from the very first time she lays eyes on him? No-I-don't-think-so.