A breif confirmation to all fans of Simon Fonthill, 352 Jenkins and the feisty Alice, that the next and eighth Fonthill adventure featuring the three will be published next January 2012 (in hardback, then in paperback the following September) by new publishers Allison and Busby. It's titled THE WAR OF THE DRAGON LADY and is set in the year 1900 against the background of the Boxer Febellion in China.
Why "The Dragon Lady"? Well, Tzui Hsi, the Empress Dowager of China, was sitting on the Manchu Throne in Peking at the turn of the century, having deposed her nephew, the Emperor, when the Rebellion broke out. The Boxers were a cult of young, uneducated peasants who blamed the foreigners living in their country for most of its ills at this time - including the drought in North China which had dried up the wells, irrigation channels and rivers and blighted the rice drop. They took their revenge particularly on the Christian missionaries who populated the villages, brutally murdering men, women and children.
The threat from the Boxers - so called because of their love of martial arts, which paradoxically did not include boxing - would probably have petered out had not the Empress seen in their uprising an excuse to wipe out the influential foreign barbarians encamped in her Empire. So she surreptitiously encouraged the rebels and then aided them with her army.
A once beautiful, third grade concubine, she was a formidable woman in her mid sixties with a porcelain complexion and long, curved fingernails. She had survived years of scheming in the tortuous world of Manchu politics and now possessed total power. Her frequent use of the death penalty earned her the subriquet "Dragon Lady" and she sat back and watched with equanimity in 1900 as the Boxers and her own soldiers laid siege to the Ministers of the foreign powers and their families trapped in the Legation Quarter in the heart of Peking.
Into this cauldron rides Simon Fonthill, his wife Alice and their servant "352" Jenkins, on a visit to Alice's uncle, a British missionary. I reckon their adventures during the rebellion provides one of the best yet Fontill stories.
But then I would, wouldn't I?