If I'd rated this book half-way through, I would certainly have given it a higher rating. Sadly from about three-quarters on, the further I progressed, the more irritated I became with the direction that Kay was taking, and I was ultimately very disappointed by the dénouement, and especially by how the 3 surviving heroines of the tale end their days.
Just to clarify, I have no problems with the treatment that Kaye metes out to the heroine that (I'm not naming her in case I spoil some of the story) resembles Consort Yang Yuhuan (A.K.A. Yáng Guìfēi ) in actual history; and I thought the military downfall of China and the single decision that would appear also in actual history to indeed have caused that downfall, during the An Lushan Rebellion, wasn't too badly done either.
It is rather how Kay has the personal lives of his intimately created characters play out that I had thought was bland, unimaginative, and ultimately unsatisfying.
For the fact that Kay had beautifully crafted an atmosphere that could very well be close to that of the Tang Dynasty - could we but travel back in time to experience it, this novel almost received 4 to 5 stars from me - but I cannot get over my disappointment regarding the ending, even months after I had read this - so I'm sticking to 3 stars.
Right.. I think I'm over sulking and will up it to a 4. After all, this could have been a 5 star read if only it resolved more satisfyingly.