In his second historical novel, a sequel to his Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, Adam Williams moves the scene of his action from China in 1900 to 1920, when the country was in a state of turmoil as warlords fought for power.
Two young women, Catherine Cabot, an English girl who, despite her youth, has already served as a nurse on the Eastern Front in World War One and experienced the Russian Revolution, and a Chinese girl, Yu Fu-kuei, who, unknown to Catherine, is a revolutionary and spy for the Comintern, meet at Oxford University and become friends.
Catherine’s reason for coming to China is that she is on a quest to seek her lost father. Yu Fu-kuei, the mistress of a warlord intelligence officer who saved her from prison, intends to bring about revolution by any means.
In this epic adventure, which the Chinese writer, Hong Ying, has described as a female Dr Zhivago in China, Adam Williams takes his two protagonists through the events of Chinese history from the warlord battles of the early part of the decade, to the setting up of the first United Front between the KMT and the CCP, through the Northern Expedition to the assassination of the northern warlord, Chang Tso-lin.
The story moves from the decadent foreign concession in Tianjin, where Catherine finds herself in a love triangle between the two sons of the missionary, Dr Airton, to the political underground in Shanghai while it experiences the May 30th Movement and later the “Shanghai Massacre” of 1927, to the terrible battlefields of the Northern Expedition and the workers’ insurrection in Wuhan that led to the briefly-lived Red Government under the Russian agent, Borodin. Picturesque war-lords, White Russian ex-cavalry officers, Chinese communists, missionaries, Japanese spies and agitators and wealthy Westerners with their race horses and nightclubs combine to make up huge cast of characters.
In the foreground is a thrilling story of romantic and political intrigue, corruption and betrayal, set against a background of a country tearing itself to pieces in civil war. In this wasteland, Williams explores how an individual can survive and seek personal salvation in service to others and in the struggle to create a better society.
Harriet Sergeant, author of a best-selling history of Shanghai, wrote in praise of the novel: The Emperor’s Bones by Adam Williams, is a block buster set in the fantastical world of China in the 1920s. As missionaries and railwaymen, Adam Williams’ family were very much part of that world. Indeed the red headed heroine is based on his grandmother …This makes it a blockbuster with a difference. The world might seem fantastical but the details are historically accurate and evocative… Through the adventures of two young women Williams portrays a fascinating epoch. An epoch…that ends in the all too real invasion of China by Japan and the rise of the Chinese Communist party.