You want historical fiction that's real and accurate and fast-paced.
The State of Qin does just that, and let me tell you three reasons why:
- The book opens with Wei Yang, the young scholar that would eventually go on to become one of ancient China’s greatest philosophers, Shang Yang. We see him get his ass handed to him in a fight.
- This brings Yang to the notice of Duke Xiao of Qin, not because the young scholar’s good at getting his ass kicked, but because he has the last known writings of Liu Kui, the strategist and political theorist that allowed the State of Wei to rise to dominance among the Seven States.
- If Duke Xiao of Qin can convince Yang to implement those ideas in his state then Qin won’t be the butt of the country’s jokes, but will actually have a chance at being a player, and not just another of the countless states gobbled up by the larger.
It’s an audacious plan, and would take twenty years to implement.
Meanwhile, back in the State of Wei we see the ailing Hui of Wei, grandson to Marquis Wen, playing politics from his deathbed. It all comes back to the Three Jins, and the States of Han and Zhao now have new rulers, rulers not hindered by the peace agreement signed so long ago.
Alliances shift, friends become enemies, and plans within plans are broken and foiled and enacted again. During it all two men rise up for Wei, two legendary commanders that will guide the state through its most difficult times. These men are Sun Bin and Pang Juan, and this is part of their story:
“The chariots are coming down and that first volley from the archers will be off in minutes.”
“We’ll have to–”
Lushan wasn’t able to finish before a huge swarm of arrows flew forth from the Zhao archers’ bows and sailed out high over the battlefield, shooting higher and higher until they arced downward and began their descent, pointing directly down on the Wei Army’s right-flank.
Sun watched as many of the infantrymen and archers dropped their weapons and raised up their small circular shields, those lucky enough to have them. The rain of arrows turned into a rain of death as they fell into the ranks, and Sun watched as hundreds of men went down, many thrashing about with painful wounds, but far too many not moving at all. What was worse were the dozen or so chariots that toppled over, some of them taking others with them.
“Those shields don’t work too well,” Lushan pointed out.
Sun shook his head. “Not everyone has one. I think the next few volleys won’t be as deadly as those without become less.
He was right. A few moments after that first volley of arrows flew out another one followed. This time only dozens dropped where before it’d been hundreds. By the time the third volley came out a few moments after that just a dozen or so men dropped – already the Zhao archers were losing their effectiveness.”
“Here they come,” Sun said, pointing up at the chariots on the eastern side of the road as they began to roll forward and then down the hill and toward the city.
“We’ll wait for them to reach the mid-point of the field before ordering them out!” Sun yelled over the already loud rumbling of hundreds of chariots rolling down the hill.
Lushan nodded, not even trying to speak over the loud noise. He watched the field ahead of them and felt his heart begin to pound with anxiety as the chariots rushed at them.
“Hold!” Sun yelled out.
He cast his gaze down the long line of chariots and infantrymen on either side of him. The chariots were a quarter down the hill and at the top the infantry units were starting to shift about, and Sun knew they’d be marching down in seconds.
“Hold!” he yelled again as the chariots reached the mid-point of the field.
Lushan looked up at him, concern in his eyes. They’d agreed to call for the advance when the Zhao troops were halfway through the field. What is he doing?
“Hold!” Sun called out again, the chariots rushing toward them at breakneck speed, already past the halfway point and without a single arrow fired at them.
Lushan looked up again. At any moment the Zhao forces would cross the three-quarter mark of the field, and when that happened Wei wouldn’t have enough time or space to get their chariots into enough of a charge to block the Zhao chariots. They’d instead be rundown, the massive cars useless. He looked up at Sun once again, and saw that he had his jaw firmly set and his eyes locked on the chariots rushing toward them. If he didn’t give the–”
“Charge!” Sun yelled. “Charge, charge, charge!”
The horses all down the line jumped as their drivers thrashed the reins down on them, and then they were rushing out to meet the Zhao chariots.
Sun didn’t watch them take off, he spun around to Lushan and a few other officers standing nearby.
“Pull the left-flank back behind the city,” he ordered.
Lushan looked up at him in shock.
“They’ll route us,” he said.
“Do it!” Sun shouted down over the sounds of the chariots around them. “Pang’ll need that hole open when the time comes.”
“There’s no indication that Pang will reach us in time! Lushan called back. “Pulling those troops back now will spell our doom!”
Sun looked at the Wei General coldly.
“Do it,” he said, and then rode off down the line.