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The Silk Empress
Volume 1 : The Roof of the World

One day, on the Silk Route, East and West meet…

VIIth century China holds a treasure which is the envy of the entire world : silk. In the West, the ladies in the fashionable set are willing to incur debt in order to have this cloth which is as light as a cloud… Silk is a more precious material than either gold or jade, and the Chinese Empire has jealously guarded the secret of its production to preserve its own monopoly.

Through the Silk Route many caravans arrive in China, and with them come men and ideas. It is thus that various religious beliefs vie for control within the Empire. There are the different currents of Buddhism, of course, but there are also the worshippers of the prophet Mani, and even the Christians. But to conquer souls, means are needed, for he who gives most alms to the poor will also gain the greatest number of followers! And that is where our story begins : the conquest of souls will unleash a religious war of a new genre, a pacific war, a war in which the secret weapon is silk…

Everything begins in Tibet one night in winter, when a Buddhist lama gives a young Chinese man a basket where two infants are sleeping, charging him to take them to China. Almost at the same moment, in China, the fifth concubine Wuzhao becomes the official wife of the Emperor. This young woman who is as beautiful as she is intelligent and ambitious has two major defects in the eyes of the dignitaries: not only is she of common stock, but she is also a Buddhist.

From oasis to oasis, from monastery to monastery, the echo of these events which seem anodyne at first sight will have repercussions spreading far and wide throughout the Silk Route. Along the paths of Tibet, of India and of China there begins a gigantic chasing race centred on a clandestine silk trade, in which become mixed up the mysterious twins, a sacred white elephant, a young Christian woman, as well as Buddhist monks and courtesans…

A novel about religions, a novel about exchanges and the fascinating discovery of the other, but above all a novel about love and adventure, the Silk Empress is also, in a way, the novel of the encounter between East and West.

Author's interview

“Ever since my childhood I’ve been in love with China – that immense and mysterious country which for centuries was the richest and most populated in the world. When I was eighteen years old, I learnt Chinese and studied history of art at university, and later became curator of the Guimet national museum in Paris. After that I spent a long time looking for a way to share my passion for China and make Westerners understand it and love it despite the barrier of a different civilization.

And finally, today, I decided I would write novels about the true China – the China I know, playful, full of abundance and variety, and overflowing with life ; the China that threw itself into the race towards modernity and progress while never abandoning its infinite respect for its past. After the Legend of the Jade, I thought that the mythical Silk Road would be, as it always has been, an ideal place for meetings and exchanges – the perfect setting for a novel.

The Silk Road was a trade route, but it was not only precious merchandise that made its way along it ; it was also the route along which religions and ideas spread. It was the path of discovery – the discovery of others. When I was writing The Silk Empresss, I wanted the reader to feel as if he were on a great journey – an odyssey of love and adventure and struggles for power among the different religions. I wanted to immerse the reader in that extraordinary « historic moment » when the West and China, but also India, Tibet and Central Asia, were engaged in a continuous dialogue, rich and fruitful, which ignored the barriers of language, culture and mentality. One might say that it was a sort of first rough draft of a world without borders.

I am sure of one thing : on the Silk Road, in around 650 AD, there were men and women exactly like my protagonists ; and just like them, they had an endless curiosity about other people and an unquenchable thirst for discovery…”

José Frèches


“Once he stepped into the maic cauldron of China, José Frèches doesn’t want to get out of it anymore”
Le Parisien

“A sort of last great journey which takes the reader from China, through Tibet, India, to the oases of Central China. Meeting of the East and the West, a jouney which never stps stirring our dreams..”
Notre Temps

“The story is to the rythm of a beating drum, conducted by an author who knows well what he is talking about.”


Foreign versions

Sold in 15 languages

  • Czech Republic: Alpress
    Denmark: Borgens
    Germany: Verlagsgruppe Random House
    Greece: Kedros
  • Hungary: Geopen Kiado
    Italy: Cairo Editore
    Japan: Random House Kodansha
    Latvia: Atena Publishers
  • Korea: Yeobaek Media Co.
    Poland: Albatros
    Portugal: Bertrand Editora
    Romania: Editura Allfa
  • Russia: Arabesque
    Spain: Ediciones Martinez Roca
    Turkey: Globus Dunya Yayinevi

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