Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Mark of Wu (Hidden Paths)The Mark of Wu by Stephen M. Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mark of Wu, Hidden Paths, Book One, by Stephen M. Gray
By Mike McIlvain
Stephen M. Gray knows how to push a lot of buttons within a person with his inaugural historic fiction novel based on China’s ancient wars in the Mark of Wu, Hidden Paths. He certainly did with me.
Reading an advance review copy, I was off into a readerland I had not visited in some time. In my own reading world I am not always out to finish the book. I like to enjoy it more than finish it. Some authors like Paul Theroux or, in Spanish, Arturo Perez-Reverte write sentences and paragraphs so well that I might get stuck on one somewhere and reread it numerous times. Gray is that type of writer.
Once past chapter 1, and a few word choices, his writing started to take off and in its own various crafty ways began to smooth me into his continuity. I began to relish his next chapter, paragraph and sentence.
Not all writers can do that, but his work shows plenty of mental energy, which says he needs to take good care of himself. It would be nice to have his caliber of writing around for a long time.
Gray seems to be right on the cusp of what could be some of the best writing seen in some years. It’s been a while since James Michener, and others of his level left us. Gray has the ability to stimulate, and I have moved from mildly interested to buying reading glasses, and seeking better reading time to absorb his words.
I lived in China for six years, saw some relics and monuments of the period he writes about, but his empathy puts faces, personalities, and human form to old stone. He might be good for China tourism, literacy, and the English language if this first book is any indication.
He touches the reader early with some good narrative descriptive in the book’s third paragraph describing a general’s funeral preparation.
“Three kneeling servants, one on either side of the body and another at the foot, finished dressing Yang Gai. One reached across the body, combing the General’s long silver hair so that it flowed to a gentle rest over his shoulders. The servant then groomed the stringy beard, which hung thinly from the tip the chin, and laid it down the center of General Yang Gai’s chest.”
And it improves as more character and scene development play into the mix his book offers.
Gray also demonstrates effective transition, moving from chapter 8 to 9. An assassin’s arrow drops a major character, changing the story’s tone considerably, adding more spice to the reader’s taste buds.
“Kuang stopped, then turned to Fu-kai, but the whistling sound of an arrow, piercing the air, startled him. And at that moment, when his mind put an image to the sound, the impulse spun his body, sending him to the ground.
“The bodyguards darted to their leader’s position, forming a protective wall around him.”
Gray’s writing found envy, pride, and other emotions in me. Hidden Paths starts in 519 B.C. when China approached the Warring States Period, which was very important in it’s development.
Reading Gray’s first book moved me from keenly cautious in the less developed chapter 1 to something of a cheering fan as I kept reading. Paths is well worth the little patience needed to get into the addicting pages that follow the beginning.
The ending does not let the reader relax. A personal conflict to keep war prisoners alive extends curiosity to the novel series’ following volume.

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