Review: ‘The Old Dragon’s Head’ by Justin Newland

Justin Newland’s second novel is a bright, well-researched and atmospheric journey into an exotic culture and an interesting past.

Based in Chinese history (which Newland obviously loves) it is well-rooted, and the fantasy elements of the novel are more effective for this solid foundation in the culture, architecture and styles of dress. There are some nicely fleshed-out characters; some who you truly root for and some of whom you truly wish would get their comeuppance. The story arc of the reluctant protagonist, Bolin, is particularly well handled. There is a supernatural / spiritual / ‘otherness’ to the storyline, which is not only reminiscent (especially to Western eyes) of the actual history and landscape it is set within, but which also, in the reader’s mind, easily becomes part of that history at the same time.

It is a solidly enjoyable story; well-written and researched, evocative, accessible and – above all – believable.

If you like historical fantasy – especially with a nice dash of the ‘other’ – then I recommend it.

4*

The Old Dragon's Head

Blurb:

Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts. When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?

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