The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence WestwoodThe Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence Westwood
Published by Shikra Press Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 277
Source: the author
Goodreads
four-half-stars

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Synopsis

I have been unable to write a judgement that does not seem to offend my conscience, or indeed Heaven, in some manner. Because I do not wish to influence your thinking unduly, I have destroyed all my personal papers and notes in regard to this dispute, preferring you to start afresh. Forgive me for this. All I ask is that you consider and examine Jade Moon most carefully before coming to a decision. I find her fascinating and unsettling in equal measure, and fear the consequences of a wrongful judgement. I will say no more.

My sincerest best wishes to you and your family,

Magistrate Qian
Fifth District, Chengdu Prefecture
1st day of the 2nd Moon, 1085

So ends the letter of welcome (and of warning) to Magistrate Zhu, newly arrived in the remote border town of Tranquil Mountain. He has travelled far from his extensive family estates on the outskirts of Kaifeng – the glorious Song Dynasty capital – hoping to find atonement for past mistakes.

Yet he quickly discovers that Tranquil Mountain is anything but tranquil. The town is beset with simmering tensions since the death of his predecessor. Before Magistrate Zhu even has time to accustom himself to his inexperienced and wayward constabulary and the lowliness of his new surroundings, there is a mysterious murder, rumours of ghosts and blood-thirsty bandits out on the streets, and a disturbing kidnapping to solve – as well as the tragic and tangled legal circumstances of the local heroine Jade Moon to unravel.

For the balance of Heaven and Earth to be maintained, and to prevent catastrophe coming to Tranquil Mountain, Magistrate Zhu is well aware that not a single injustice can be allowed to stand. As he struggles to reach the correct judgements, he realises he has no choice but to offer up his career and perhaps even his own life for the greater good. And, in so doing, he discovers that as Jade Moon’s fate rests in his hands, so his fate ultimately rests in hers.

I received this book for free from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My Thoughts on The Balance of Heaven and Earth:

Where do I begin???

I had no idea what to expect when I began reading this book. I know little about the time period in China during which The Balance of Heaven and Earth takes place, but part of what I LOVE about historical fiction is getting to learn about different places and times through fictionalized accounts of the past.

There was so much that I loved about this book, but the characters are what really pulled me in and had me both laughing and crying! Even the names of people and places made me happy – Jade Moon, Horse, Always Smiling Orphanage – I just loved them!!

The story begins with Jade Moon saving a merchant during an attack by bandits in the marketplace. Jade Moon, normally quiet and mild-mannered, was transformed that day.

But while she may have saved a life, her own life and future is at risk thanks to a deal made by her mother before the time of the marketplace incident. Now, the new magistrate, Magistrate Zhu, must decide the fate of Jade Moon…

Magistrate Zhu was born into wealth and power, when you first meet him it seems as if he doesn’t want to do actual work and is unhappy with his new position as magistrate of Tranquil Mountain. But as his story is revealed and he interacts with all the inhabitants of the town, the Magistrate’s attitudes and actions begin to make sense and he really grows on the people in the town (and the reader of the story, as well)!

And poor Magistrate Zhu! He arrives in what he believes will be a boring town where he’ll be required to do very little. But upon arriving, he finds many demands put upon him other than maintaining the tea trade — there’s been a murder AND the matter of what to do about Jade Moon must be decided!

The Patriarchs, who used to run Tranquil Mountain and provide for the economic stability of the town, fear Magistrate Zhu has come to steal their land and the little authority they have left.

Jade Moon’s situation is made more complicated (at least in the magistrate’s eyes) by the fact that she’s not fully Chinese. Her father was a barbarian, whom she loved fiercely even though her mother despised him. There are those who believe her to be supernatural – a reincarnation of a warrior from long ago!

No one in Tranquil Mountain knows what to think of Magistrate Zhu. They find him odd, though smart, but uncaring about them. Tea is the most important thing to the citizens of the town, but Zhu seems only to care about catching a murderer!

As the story unfolds, Jade Moon’s story is tied up in the Magistrate’s, though it’s not quite clear how, and they don’t even see it themselves. Then there’s a moment near the end of the book where it all comes together and I cried it was so perfect!

I love the theme throughout the book of balance. No one is perfect. All make mistakes, but they don’t have to ruin everything… Still, all decisions have lasting consequences, and every character in The Balance of Heaven and Earth has to deal with their own.

You should know that I have come to believe that injustice is the primary cause of any imbalance between Heaven and Earth. It takes just one innocent man to be punished for a crime he did not commit, or for one guilty man to go undiscovered and to walk abroad in this land unpunished, for suffering to be brought down upon all of us. This is the moral responsibility that has been laid upon our heads, we who have chosen to enforce the law.

Magistrate Zhu, The Balance of Heaven and Earth

You would think that this would be a story with a more serious tone, considering it’s a mystery dealing with a murder and a legal mess left behind by the former magistrate. But The Balance of Heaven and Earth is much more on the humorous side than the serious!

The ending was nothing like what I expected! Normally, when I’m caught off guard by an ending I hate it, but I was pleasantly surprised this time. It was SO much better than I had anticipated it being!

Actually, the ending wasn’t the only thing that surprised me about this book… I’m always a little wary of any story that has so many characters it includes a helpful guide at the beginning. I find that even with the guide, I tend to get confused. (I think Dark Queen Rising was the last story to do that to me.) But I actually never had that problem in The Balance of Heaven and Earth. The characters all have unique personalities and there was never so many characters in one scene together that I couldn’t keep up with who was who, and who was saying what. (I probably wouldn’t even have noticed there were so many characters in the book if the list wasn’t there.)

This is one of those books that isn’t going to be everyone’s favorite cup of tea, but it’s worth reading even if you don’t absolutely love it like I did!!! I definitely recommend this book for anyone that enjoys historical fiction and historical mysteries (especially those set during the time of the Song Dynasty).

What do you think of The Balance of Heaven and Earth? Do you know of similar story I might enjoy? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks and happy reading!!

four-half-stars

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