Unbound by John Shors

‘Maybe there’s a balance to life, to fate.’

1548, the Middle Kingdom of China is ruled by the Ming dynasty, who replaced the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in 1368.  The Mongols continue to threaten, and while the Great Wall provides protection, it needs constant maintenance.

In this novel, Mr Shors has recreated a version of the legendary Chinese love story of Meng Jingnu and her beloved Fan Xiliang.  Fan leaves, for a period of three months, to work on the Great Wall.  But he does not return, and after he is missing for twelve months, Meng sets off to find him.  Meng has unbound feet, extremely unusual for any woman of rank during this period.  It is only because of her unbound feet that Meng, disguised as a man, can consider undertaking this journey.

Meanwhile, at the Great Wall, Fan works alongside a young Mongol captive, Bataar.  General Yat-Sen holds their lives in his hands.

The story shifts between Meng’s journey to the wall and Fan’s life on it.  There are other stories as well: the concubine Yehonala, Bataar’s father Chuluun and Meng’s co traveller Ping.

Meng’s journey is eventful.  Fan’s existence at the Great Wall is fraught with danger.  Meng’s letters to him have been intercepted by Yat-Sen whose greed and jealousy lead him to destroy what he cannot possess.

And the ending?  I finished the novel satisfied.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith