Sunday, June 16, 2013

'City of Jade' by LJ LaBarthe

"City of Jade" is L. J. LaBarthe's first full-length historical novel. It is set on the Silk Road in 1131A.D., covering the journey between Constantinople and Chang'an and beyond. It was a great labour of love for her; L. J. LaBarthe has said that researching and writing this book has been nothing but a joy. As she is an avid historian, this has long been a period of interest and fascination for her, especially the Byzantine Empire in the 11th—13th centuries.

  The story follows the lives of a Byzantine soldier named Gallienus, and the man he has fallen in love with, Misahuen, a refugee from Gyeongju in Korea. They meet in Constantinople where Gallienus, now a city gate guard, is inspecting wagons of merchants arriving at the city and encounters Misahuen among the guards of a merchant train from the far east.

  As they grow closer, they realize that between the laws of the Byzantine Empire and Gallienus's own lowly status as a gate guard, the best thing for their budding relationship would be to leave, and so they do, taking work as guards for a merchant named Stephanos.

  As Stephanos, his family and his trading caravan travel to Chang'an in China, Gallienus and Misahuen encounter all manner of situations, from brigands to the merely curious to turbulent weather to culture clashes to injuries and more.

Gallienus and  Misahuen encounter many adventures

   "City of Gold" is published by Dreamspinner Press, and readers can purchase the ebook here: and the paperback here:

  If readers are interested in L. J. LaBarthe's other books (and there's a section for the extensive bibliography of resources that she consulted while researching "City of Jade" too), her website is here: 

  Below is an excerpt from "City of Jade." This is from Part Six, at the Alay Mountains, which are found in modern day Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


The Irkeshtam Pass was busy.

Gallienus was surprised, although he knew he shouldn’t be. There were bound to be other merchants and traders on the road, and here, at the pass that would lead them safely—he hoped—through to Kashgar, there were two other large caravans waiting to begin the crossing.

Stephanos squinted at the caravans with a suspicious expression on his face. As Gallienus watched, enthralled, the merchant’s expression cleared and a smile curved his lips. Stephanos slid down from his camel and marched toward the two caravans. Two other men came toward him, wearing the same sort of smiles—cautious yet friendly.

“This is interesting,” Gallienus said to Misahuen.

“Indeed.” Misahuen was watching with just as much fascination. “I imagine that Stephanos is going to suggest all three caravans cross the pass together.”

“Strength in numbers?” Gallienus answered his own question. “Perhaps, or better pickings for bandits.”

“Perhaps,” Misahuen agreed. “Although there are other dangers. Avalanches, landslides.”

Gallienus grunted. “That will always be a danger no matter what pass we take over the mountains. We cannot war with nature.”

“Some would like to.”

“It would be futile.” Gallienus fell silent as he watched Stephanos and the other merchants.

A boy, perhaps fourteen years old, rushed over to the merchants, carrying a small amphora and three goblets. He poured for them, sloshing some of the contents onto the ground, and the merchant he worked for barked a sharp command at him.

“Persian,” Gallienus identified the merchant. “Most likely from Tehran.”

“The other looks to be from Samarkand,” Misahuen said.

As they watched, the merchants drank from the goblets and then shook hands, laughing and talking. There was much gesticulating and more laughter, and then Stephanos drained his goblet and turned and walked back to the caravan.

“We are all going to cross together,” he said, confirming Gallienus and Misahuen’s suspicions. “Stay close and do not mingle too much. There may be thieves about. Gallienus and Misahuen, I want you to guard my wife.”

Gallienus and Misahuen exchanged a surprised look.

“Of course,” Gallienus said, “but would your sons not be better guards?”

“No.” Stephanos glared at him. “I want her protected by warriors, not boys.” He looked at his sons. “Watch and learn from Gallienus and Misahuen,” he said. The three nodded, mute in the face of their father’s resolute attitude.

Gallienus rode Adrastos up to stand beside Lady Tahirah’s mount, noting Misahuen on her other side. Stephanos climbed back into the saddle of his camel, bellowed orders to his guards, and then they began to move.

The road had been climbing steadily upward since they left Osh several days ago, but now, here at the pass that would take them across the Alay Mountains and into China, it became extraordinarily steep. There were times members of all three caravans had to dismount and lead their animals single file, along narrow, winding switchback paths that led upward, ever upward. The mountain rose to one side, and the drop on the other was a long, long way down.

It was cold, too, not as cold as Gallienus had been expecting, but cold enough. The mountains bred their own weather, and he found himself getting short of breath much quicker as they climbed higher and it got colder. He took a small measure of satisfaction from seeing that everyone was reacting as he was.

His leg ached almost constantly now, but Gallienus ignored it. The combinations of teas, ointments, potions, and Misahuen’s tender ministrations had reduced the ache in the lowlands, but here, where there was no such thing as an easy path, in the thin atmosphere of the heights, there was always pain. Breathing was hard, and, Misahuen explained as they took a rest period, that was because they were higher than they were used to.

“How long will it take to cross?” Gallienus asked during a rest stop on the third day.

Ahmad shrugged. “Difficult to say. It depends on the weather. The journey from Osh to Kashgar will take nearly three weeks, I would wager.”

“And winter is ever on our tail,” Gallienus said.

“Yes”— Ahmad frowned—“but it is late this year. The road is still dry. There should be snow. I am not taking this for granted, friend Gallienus. Enjoy this respite from winter while we have it. We have yet to reach the Taklimakan and that will, I fear, be a harder crossing than this.”

Gallienus took scant comfort from his friend’s words. He ate the heel of bread and drank the small cup of wine that was their allowance when they stopped to rest and heaved a great sigh as the caravans moved out, picking their way slowly over what felt like the rooftop of the world.

The view, however, made up for the pain and difficulty of the journey. They rounded one of the tight corners of the switchback road, and Gallienus gasped, pausing as he stared at the vista that met his eyes.

Mountains stood as far as he could see, colored blue and white. The snow gleamed in the sunlight and the clouds were thin, allowing him to see the very peaks of those mountains. They seemed to reach forever, like a giant dragon’s spine that covered the world.

“The Tien Shan Mountains,” Misahuen said from behind him.

“They are magnificent,” Gallienus said.

An avidly researched novel set in Medieval Byzantium