Roc, March 2003, 6.50, 352 pp.
During the Tang Dynasty in the city of Bao Fang, a young girl loses her father and brothers in an accident at sea forcing the female survivors (she, her sisters and her mother), to live with their Aunt Wang Tie Tie. In an age when women are subordinate to men, Wang Tie Tie is an independent person who runs her own household and businesses. She sends her niece Xiao Yen to school to learn to be a PAPER MAGE, one who folds paper into shapes and bring them to life.
Xiao Yen promises her aunt that she will do daring deeds to attract the attention of the god Zhang so he will give her a peach to give to her an aunt so she too will become immortal. On her very first job, guiding two men to a predetermined destination, she slays a dragon, frees a goddess from a tyrant's spell, and kills an evil dictator. Slaying someone forces Xiao Yen to decide whether she wants to be a traditional Middle Kingdom woman or an independent person.
It is very obvious that the author researched Ancient Chinese culture and history during the time of Charlemagne in Europe so that readers obtain a very visual picture of the country. The heroine is an interesting mix of independence and dependency on her family. When she grows into being a mage, she does so knowing what many of the ramifications will be. Leah R. Cutter has written a cutting edge historical fantasy balanced between plenty of action, strong visualization of Ancient China, and deep introspective pondering on the part of a delightful protagonist.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner