The Hand, The Eye and The Heart, Zoë Marriott, Walker Books, 2019, softcover, $17.99, isbn 9781406383546.
A young adult novel
Zhilan has been brought up female in her family home; she is the eldest child of the House of Hua. In a place and time where females and males had a defined role Zhilan always felt ill at ease: not comfortable in her own skin and her own abilities. For she, like her father, the (retired) great Iron General of the Southern Provinces has the ability to create illusions, a talent thought unnatural for females to possess in this fairy tale world based on Ancient China.
Despite society’s and her mother’s misgivings Zhilan is trained to hone her skills by her father. When the Emperor sends out commands for families to help fight the new threat to the Red Empire, Zhilan gathers all her years of training in order to represent her family name – as a man.
Thus begins a tale that is epic, brutal and very human.
The human side of the story is based on how and why Zhilan (Zhi is to become her new name) throughout struggles to come to terms with who she/he really is. It is a struggle we all have to deal with whether or not we are unsure of our sexuality.
Epic due to the fighting and adventure that is told within and is brutal when the true horrors of war are revealed.
The title is part of a rhyme Zhilan’s mother recited to her when a child and is not mentioned until three quarters of the way in (page 380) when Zhilan is wondering why she could not respond well to the Young General. It is a very apt summing up.
While this novel has been inspired by the fairy tale character Mulan, it is not a Disney story and should be approached with this clearly in mind.
The author gives warning at the front of the novel that ‘…this book contains depictions of deadnaming and misgendering. Please use your own best judgement as to whether you will find this triggering….’ as well as ‘…chestbinding (practices) which…are entirely unsafe…’
A challenging novel that I am glad I read.