This is the second time that I delved into the Three Kingdoms era. “Crouching Dragon”; was a semi-satisfying project in that it sold and it was a joy to research. But I was never completely satisfied with it: I was never sure whether I married the right combination of history and artistic licence. The last act in particular was a concern, as the vast majority of known characters were dead or retired and the whole era had an “End of the road” feel to it. And, I confess, as my first attempt at writing professionally, I was always doubtful as to whether anyone would buy such a book. But they did, and so I came to this project with a sense of the semi-familiar and a yearning to surpass the first attempt. And where else to start but at the beginning?
The fictional (Romance of the) Three Kingdoms [ROTK] is a long book, based on a 100-year-long era in Chinese history: I always felt that (for political reasons) the book really dodges a lot of stories in the early days, opting to say that the Yellow Turbans ruined what was an otherwise satisfactory status quo all-in-all, and asks the reader to root for the loyalists without asking why so many people so readily followed a rambling Taoist magician into a nationwide uprising. “Crouching Dragon” starts at a point where the first 30 years had been and gone, and history was already being turned into myth by the men of the day (I depict Zhuge as a staunch Han loyalist that is trying to unpick the history as he goes and encountering the same bias that would be present in any era), but I always wanted to go back and depict it somehow. That is, however, much easier said than done.
Once again, this novel will hold few story surprises for a fan of the ROTK mythos. But I made one crucial choice: I went back to the “Partisan Crisis” to begin the story. Why? Well, the main reason was that I found some interesting people in that era that I saw as important to fleshing out the men that drive the story, Yuan Shao and Cao Cao. Qiao Xuan, Lu Zhi, Cai Yong and Lu Kang are not perhaps as familiar as Liu Bei and company, but they represent the influences that the more popular men had as they approached their own destinies.
Some characters might seem superfluous: Zang Ba, for example. Zang Ba might seem unimportant, but look at his actions and decisions to see the poor state of the nation at that time.It may also be the case that the 350-plus characters might seem “too much”. I won’t apologise for the number of people, and they wouldn’t apologise to me or anyone else for being there to need including. People like Dou Wu are there to say to the reader, “Oh dear, the eunuchs are doing to X what they did to Y”, which creates a richer story. And as for the (near) absence of some obvious people… the Sun family did too much to have their story running parallel to the Yuan feud, and really deserve their own piece - ‘East of the River: Home of the Sun Clan’ - rather than be poorly served.
I hope this work (and its “sequel”) entertains someone out there: that is all I hope for!
T. P. M. Thorne