I hated this book so much I hated it with the power that only comes from being disappointed and wanting to not hate it It had potential It had moments where I thought “Yes! You can do it! You can do it! You… aww fuck.”Basic story line:Mythical Chinese kingdom.Eight Chinese girls.Once upon a time.The girls enter the pact of JinShei This is a sisterhood oath It is explained to be sacred and binding, but also supporting because it’s done in love, trust and respect At least that’s how the first one goes Later it’s sort of “Hey You wanna do the whole JinShei thing? And be sisters? Cool.” I think I actually put the book down and did a confused head shake The first one was all formality and seriousness Later on it was… not.The eight girls become a Venn diagram of JinShei They have distinct personalities and roles to play in the future of the empire.The writing spiral out of control and breaks my heart all over the place Alexander introduces a plot point, for example a half sister that could lay claim to the throne I start to think that this is going to be an interesting twist and I’m looking forward to how it’ll play out and what the characters will do and then I turn the page and it’s all “Wow I thought there was a sister Then I read this diary and there is a sister! I know who she is so I’m going to go get her and now we’re on the next part of the plot.” WTF???This happened time and time again ”Something is wrong This is what I think is wrong Yes, I was correct It is wrong.” So much telling instead of showing.One of theinfuriating things (and there were a lot) was the passage of time Parts were meant to meander and move slowly But at other points Alexander would begin to build an intensity You could feel things being pushed toward a conflict You’d turn the page ”A year later…” WTF? What do you mean a year later? What in the hell happened? Then there’d be a few sentences to get you caught up, you’d find out that there were somequestions that were answered by a quick walk down a hall somewhere and now it was time for something else.So so frustrating.I’m wondering if this book was cobbled together from a bunch of short stories about different characters and wasn’t supposed to be one book or if it was supposed to be several long books that ended up being chopped up into one.What really pissed me off was that parts of it were really good There were moments where the story and plot and setting were original and well written and I’d get sucked in, only to be let down in a few pages.Even the ending had me split Parts of it had me in tears because I’d watched (and been told) about these girls growing up and now tragedy was all over the place But then one character behaved in a way that made zero sense from anything that she had done previously She was crucial to the book; her actions drove almost the entire plot But the book needed to end, so instead of saying A, she said B A few sentences were tossed in there to show why she had this amazing change of heart that went against everything she had made herself to be, but the important thing is The End.Ugh.I wish the book flat out sucked because then I would have tossed it I kept holding out hope that Alexander would get her shit together long enough to have a really solid section But it never happened. Love, love, loved this book I think the publisher is doing it a disservice, though, by its presentation I thought it was going to be an East Asian domestic drama, about the hidden lives of imperial women Instead, it turned out to be a sprawling epic that includes fighting and the supernatural It's about women, yes, in a mythical East Asian country, but it's a fantastical adventure and should be enjoyed as such. I remember I loved this book! Though it is some years since I read it, it has been passed around the family and recently returned to me. I read this one a while ago, years and years – and yet, I still remember it quite often I can't guarantee about the representation of Asian characters in this book because of the same reason, but if you take it with a grain of salt, I am sure you will enjoy it It focuses on a sisterhood of sorts of women from all levels of society – rich as well as poor, of humble descent as well as nobility It spans a long time and has a lot of fantasy elements, cause while it starts out in ancient China, it ends up in pretty much fantasy territory What I liked in this book was the amount of detail, intricacy, othercultureness (that a word..?) and, of course, the bonds between the souls of the women I know I couldn't pry my nose from inside of that hefty book before I was done! Another interesting detail was that it was this book that introduced me to the fact that women had their own writing system in ancient China (as they were not allowed to study to read 'men's writings'.)This book appears in the list of Books To Go With Cocoa And A Warm Blanket Check out the others!Read Post On My Blog | My Bookstagram | Bookish Twitter Overall/Tl;drAn impressive book about sisterhood in a ChinabutnotChina fantasy setting The first 20% of the book was really very good (I love sisterhood/brotherhood stuff), but I didn't end up enjoying it as much I expected There's a bit of fantasy, good alternativehistory worldbuilding, and lots of characters to read about, but the plotjust didn't work for me.Setting/WorldbuildingAlternateChina with different names and with a sort of lowfantasy magic 'JinShei' means sister of the heart, essentially an oath of loyalty women can decide to take with one another, and is relevant because the 8(?) characters all have a tangled web of them The religion and particularly the main city where most of the story takes place was well done and came alive for me But I felt a bit underinformed about the politics.PlotRight So this is where the book fell down in my opinion, and I feel I need to explain why, but it will contain spoilers (view spoiler)[The most succinct way I can think of to describe the plot is 'several women become sisters, then get old and/or die in fantasy China' That's it Nothing actually changes Which maybe is some kind of statement or theme, but I couldn't quite understand exactly why I was reading about these characters The 'villain' if we can call him that is utterly mysterious and ultimately irrelevant The *real* villain seems to me to be one of the main characters the Dragon Empress It's like a spoiled child rules the nation, and the whole cast of characters is there to prop her up Except I didn't want them to Andimportantly she seemed to have no rivals or political intrigue or conflict to prevent her from doing anything she wanted (hide spoiler)] This book follows the intertwining lives of half a dozen women, bound together by the sacred bond of jinsheibo, a relationship of kinship that goes far beyond blood ties Tai, the prepubescent daughter of a Court seamstress, catches the eye of the young Empress in waiting, Antian, and despite the difference in their stations, they become close Then Antian is killed in a catastrophic (and wonderfully described) earthquake With her last breath, she urges Tai to take care of her sisters At first Tai believes this means only the proud and prickly Luidan, daughter of a concubine but after Antian's death, heir to the throne However, Tai discovers that the rash and yet vulnerable new Dragon Empress is not the only sister Antian left behind.Ms Alexander creates a vivid fantasy world in which women have their own writing and their own powers For the sake of brevity I haven't listed the other characters, but each member of Tai's jinshei circle has unique talents as well as personal burdens The book offers sorcery and court intrique, celebration and mourning, love and death The Secrets of JinShei is not a particularly deep book, but the story and the characters kept me turning the pages I was sorry when it was over. Sisters of the Soul: The Secrets of JinsheiAlma HromickDeckert has written at least fifteen books, substantial short fiction, lived and worked on four continents, and been a witness to worldwide change along the way According to one of her websites, she was born in 1963 on the shores of the Danube in a country that no longer exists, received several degrees in South Africa, but then found it prudent to leave that land rather than be swept aside by militant forces for cultural change, and eventually settled in Bellingham, Washington The Secrets of Jinshei, published in 2004 under the name Alma Alexander, is her first American novel, published by Harper Collins as mainstream fiction Unsurprisingly, considering her own history, Jinshei examines the lives of a group of nine women who never quite feel as though they belong, and who share, unevenly, a vow that will shape their entire lives Jinshei is interesting and beautiful from several perspectives Although it has a focus character, Tai, it is truly an ensemble cast Tai's most critical actions occur at the beginning and end of the tale, while the body is givento the activities of each of her Jinshei sisters The novel is presented largely in a multiple third person point of view The writing style trends toward the American speculative fiction standard of transparent prose, yet has moments of truly beautiful language, and other moments of truly breathtaking beauty It has a large cast of major characters, is set in Syai, an ancient Chinese kingdom that never existed and in which magic is real Alexander begins Jinshei with an epigraph prefacing material from the Imperial poet KatoTai, in the year 28 of the Star Emperor The selection frames the entire narrative and reveals that Tai outlived or lost all of her eight sisters of Jinshei:All women in Syai are given the gift of the secret vow, the promise that is everlasting, the bond that does not break I shared my own life with a healer, an alchemist, a sage, a soldier, a gypsy, a rebel leader, a loving ghost, and an Empress who dreamed of immortality and nearly destroyed us all.Each of the seven major parts of the book begins with a small epigraph quoting a fictional court poet from various Imperial reigns The epigraphs, if put together, form one poem, which illustrates the ages of a woman, and become the framing notion for each part The parts are named after notional stages of life within The Way According to the text, the stages of life are: Liu, Lan, Xat, Qai, Ryu, Pau and Atu, which correspond poetically to the ages of a woman An amazing amount of thought and heart went into creating this book, and I loved it I've read it several times, and even wrote a paper about it in graduate school Now that I'm writing this shore review, I'll probably have to go back and reread it again I'll laugh again, and almost certainly cry again Some book just hit you that way. I'd give this novel a 4.5 It challenged me in a different sense than any other ‘difficult read’ has – the task of differentiating ten protagonists really tested my short and long term memory banks This initial need to absorb would likely explain why the first volume was so comparatively inert to the rest of the novel The atmosphere had been built to be peaceful, curious and idealistic – it was set in the Summer Palace – so even the first disruption proved to be a big shock The drama had significantly accelerated by the third segment The ability to create and sustain such different paces within a novel is an admirable skill.Apart from the often unpredictable action, what also engaged me was the wisdom that was littered throughout Yes, it was contextual; often too imaginative and faithbound for my personal taste – but overall thoughtprovoking and, at times, reassuring I should also mention that I often forgot that I was reading from the perspectives of ancient Chinese girls/women, despite the constant drawing on contextual differences Though I was experiencing life through an alternate universe, I could still immerse myself into the mind of each character.Extracts: There are moths outside, ready to die for a light they crave but which is denied to them, shielded from them  Sometimes, in the midst of all I have been given, I watch the moths in us all Everybody has a light which they think they cannot live without.It is Paukala The branch is still bare The old tree's leaves will never return they are a memory and a song But there is a sapling, there is a sapling right beside that old tree, and it's trembling with promise There will be a spring again.A truly underrated read. A sweeping epic set in medieval China; it is the story of a group of women, the JinShei sisterhood, who form a uniquely powerful circle that transcends class and social customThey are bound together by a declaration of loyalty that transcends all other vows, even those with the gods, by their own secret language, passed from mother to daughter, by the knowledge that some of them will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice to enable others to fulfil their destinyThe sisterhood we meet run from the Emperor's sister to the streetbeggar, from the trainee warrior in the Emperor's Guard to the apprentice healer, from the artist to the travellergirl, herself an illegitimate daughter of an emperor and seen as a threat to the throne And as one of them becomes Dragon Empress, her determination to hold power against the sages of the temple, against the marauding forces from other kingdoms, drags the sisterhood into a dangerous world of court intrigue, plot and counterplot, and brings them into conflict with each other from which only the one who remains true to all the vows she made at the very beginning to the dying Princess Empress can rescue themAn amazing and unusual book, based on some historical fact, full of drama, adventure and conflict like a Shakespearean history play, it's a novel about kinship and a society of women, of mysticism, jealousy, fate, destiny, all set in the wonderful, swirling background of medieval China I liked this book, but also didn’t There were A LOT of characters…something like 10 main characters is a wee bit too many Certainly a few could be cut The remaining 7 or so characters were great and I enjoyed their growth and relationships between each other What I didn’t like was the hocuspocus ghost crap It wasn’t necessary! It was a great story of friendship and being bound to tradition and a culture I could have also done without the last chapter I read the book, I don’t need a refresher as to what happened earlier I was actually paying attention Also? I don’t need to know what happened to every single character to the very end Cut the last chapter and the ghostie mystical stuff, and it would be the appropriate length, as it is too long with them in Even with these faults, it was pretty much an enjoyable book that did suck me in and kept me turning the pages.