As Chung Kuo’s population continues to grow, the Seven find they must make further concessions. The great Edict of Technological Control – the means by which the Seven had kept Change at bay for more than a century – is to be relaxed, the House at Weimar re-opened, in return for guarantees of population controls. For the first time, the Seven are forced to tackle the problems of their world, facing up to the necessity for limited change. But is it too late? Are the great waves of unrest unleashed by earlier wars about to overwhelm them?
It certainly seems to, and when DeVore manages to persuade Li Yuan’s newly-appointed general, Hans Ebert, to secretly ally with him, the writing seems to be on the wall. Handsome, strong and intelligent, Ebert was heir to genetics and pharmaceuticals company, GenSyn, Chung Kuo’s largest manufacturing concern. Only he’s also a vain, amoral young man, a cold-blooded ‘hero’ with the secret ambition of deposing the Seven and becoming ‘King of the World’.
Having married his brother’s wife, the beautiful Fei Yen (“Flying Swallow”), Prince Li Yuan has settled to his new role as his father’s helper. He loves the work, only the task requires long hours and Fei Yen feels neglected by her husband. Consumed by passion, she has a brief, clandestine affair with his cousin, the handsome young T’ang of West Asia, Tsu Ma; one which, if disclosed, would destroy the Seven. Tsu Ma ends the affair, but has the damage been done?
Kim Ward, rescued as a child from the Clay – that dark and hostile land beneath the City’s foundations – has fulfilled his early promise and proved something of a scientific genius. Scouts from the great Companies look to buy his services. Even the great T’ang, Li Shai Tung, is interested in the boy’s talent. But there are others who seek to destroy him, so no one else can use him. As for Ben, he has gone to College, in ‘Oxford’. Or, at least, the ;place that calls itself that these days. His failure to fit in drives him home again, but not before he falls in love for the first time, with his future wife, Christine, and gets his first glance – in the Oven Man’s ash-painted picture of the Feast of the Dead – of where his own art ought to be heading.