Review Blog

Sep 24 2010

Wicked warriors and evil emperors: the true story of the fight for Ancient China by Alison Lloyd

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Ill. by Terry Denton. Penguin, 2010. ISBN 9780143304340.
(Age 8+) Recommended. Alison Lloyd has followed in the footsteps of the 'Horrible histories' to tell the story of the rise and fall of the Qin Empire. Her narrative is peppered with anecdotes, descriptions of life at court, interesting facts, quizzes and sage advice from authors of the period. The result looks deceptively like a grab-bag of information but actually builds a convincing picture of a civilisation that was the contemporary of Ancient Rome.
The author's style has a light and comic touch. As some of the material is gruesome, her tongue-in-cheek humour is a welcome relief without being insensitive. Despite her conversational style and the absence of a bibliography, Alison Lloyd adheres to the conventions of historical writing, making it clear when documentary evidence is not available and details are based on conjecture. She may have drawn on her own experience of living in China to provide guides to pronunciation and has adopted the curious but effective practice of explaining the meanings of words in footnotes instead of a glossary. The book ends with a timeline, a guide to principal characters and a thoughtful assessment of the Qin dynasty's legacy which includes the origin of the name of modern China.
Terry Denton's pen and ink cartoons illustrate nearly every page, finding what humour can be derived from 'wicked weapons', executions and imperial pomposity.
The opening line states:
'History is bloody, funny, exciting and grim. It can also be dangerous.'
Alison Lloyd could have added that history is entertaining and educational. Her book succeeds on both counts.
Elizabeth Bor

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