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Reviews of Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain

by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart X
Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 336 pages

    Jul 2016, 352 pages


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About this Book

Book Summary

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost barely conscious of its place within the empire, but Dayan is teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. The crowds have been drawn by the promise of an unmatched spectacle; an eclipse of the sun, commanded by the Emperor himself.

Amid the frenzy, Li Du befriends an elderly Jesuit astronomer. Hours later, the man is murdered in the home of the local magistrate, and Li Du suspects it was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can't keep his own story straight.

Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the pass over Jade Dragon Mountain that will take him out of China forever. But he cannot ignore the murder that the town is all too eager to forget. As Li Du investigates, he begins to suspect that the murderer intends to kill again. The eclipse is coming. Li Du must solve the murder before the sun disappears. If he does not, then someone, perhaps Li Du himself, will never again see its light.

Chapter 1

It was a cold morning in early spring when Li Du came to the top of a small hill and saw below him the city of Dayan. The sun had not yet touched the valley, and the only perceptible movement was in the pale smoke that blurred the rigid curves of the tile and wood rooftops.

Beyond the city to the north, a mountain emerged slowly into the dawn. Its base was blue and featureless, a shape without dimension against the brightening sky. But on the distant summit, the snow and ice glowed golden pink in anticipation of sunrise.

Li Du could see the pass that would take him over the mountain and down to the river valley on the other side. But between him and that ridge lay Dayan, unavoidable. With a small sigh that puffed into the cold air, he rose, rinsed his bowl in a stream that ran by the hilltop temple where he had stopped to drink tea, put out the little fire he had made, and began the descent into the valley.

It took him a little over an hour to arrive at the houses on the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Hamza tells stories for a living. Although they may be based in reality, these stories are largely spun out of his imagination. At one point, we find out the killer was inspired by one of Hamza's stories when he planted a fake suicide note under Li Du's bed. How do Hamza's tales mirror the story of the novel itself? How have stories influenced your decisions or made their way into reality?
  2. In Tulishen's court, manners and decorum are very important, and many of the foreigners fumble when it comes to kowtowing and other social nuances of China. At one point, Li Du shows Hugh Ashton the proper way to brew and serve tea. How important are rituals and customs in your culture? How important should they be?
  3. Following his ...
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BookBrowse Review


Elsa Hart's Jade Dragon Mountain is a fast-paced novel set in a remote town in 18th century China, just bordering Tibet. Rich detail of time, place and culture raise it above the usual mystery – its no wonder that this is one of our best scoring First Impressions books. 21 of 23 reviewers gave it a 4 or 5, and everyone is looking forward to the next installment in this exciting series!..continued

Full Review (739 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Associated Press
A compelling look at Chinese politics, culture and religion, delivering the complexities of each with a character-rich story... Jade Dragon Mountain proves to be one of the year's most engrossing debuts and establishes Hart as an author to watch.

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick. The writing is lyrical and beautiful. Intricate plotting leads to an ending that is perfect and surprising.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Part mystery, part exploration of a culture fading into history's shadows, Hart's novel is a fascinating, intelligent debut...Think Agatha Christie writing Shogun...captivating.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Compelling…. Hart's sure command of historical complexities, conflicts between cultures, and plot twists leads to a satisfying conclusion.'

Decorated with a careful attention to detail, this old-fashioned mystery suits its setting in atmosphere and pacing, drawing the reader into an exotic territory.

Author Blurb Donna Leon
This debut historical mystery deftly combines ingenious plotting and suspense with a subtle understanding of China, its culture, and its people. The protagonist, Li Du, a librarian and intellectual, is well worth keeping an eye on.

Author Blurb Louise Penny
Jade Dragon Mountain is an amazing book-truly wonderful. Stunning in its atmosphere, setting, the gift of language, and great writing. Elsa Hart and her protagonist, Li Du, deserve a place in every collection. If you like great books, you will love Jade Dragon Mountain.

Reader Reviews


Jade Dragon Mountain
Atmospheric and intriguing mystery set around the opening of China to the West. Exiled Imperial Librarian Li Du is a sympathetic character dropped into a controversy surrounding the Emperor's visit to the border city of Dayan and the murder of a ...   Read More
Jeanette L. (Marietta, GA)

Jade Dragon Mountain
The story takes place at the beginning of the eighteen century in Dayan a frontier town in China. The main character is Li Du a librarian and intellectual, a scholar who has been exiled from Beijing by the Emperor almost 5 years ago. Li Du has ...   Read More
Susan W. (Leesburg, VA)

Jade Dragon Mountain
I have always loved mystery books and was not disappointed with this one. I was kept entertained not only with the mystery itself but also with the imagery of when China was ruled by emperors. And just when you think the mystery is solved your are ...   Read More
Patricia S. (Chicago, IL)

Jade Dragon Mountain
Elsa Hart's "Jade Mountain Dragon" is a wonderful book, and I hope it is the first in a new mystery series. Set in eighteenth-century Yunnan, China, it blends Chinese culture with frontier culture and the Jesuit missionary attitudes of the time. Li ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mysteries Set in Far Flung Places

Jade Dragon Mountain is the start of a new mystery series that proved a hit with the members who reviewed it for First Impressions. Here are some other recently published, or soon to publish, mysteries set in far flung locations to add to your "must-read" list:

The Invention of Fire The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger

Apr 2015. 432 pages. Published by William Morrow.

A richly resplendent and descriptive murder mystery which conjures up a vivid and wholly realistic depiction of medieval London in all its loud, vibrant, filthy glory. This is the second John Gower novel following A Burnable Book. More info

Hell's Gate Hell's Gate: A Detective Mollel Novel by Richard Crompton

Jun 2015. 256 Pages. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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