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A Message for the Emperor

by Mark Frutkin

Mark Frutkin’s latest novel is poetic and cinematic, with a fable-like quality. It’s the kind of magical tale one might expect to hear from some learned Eastern philosopher addressing a group of disciples. Despite possessing very human traits, the characters in this story seem to glide through the fast-paced plot without their feet ever touching the ground.

The action takes place in ancient China and revolves around Li Wen, an artist ordered by his master to deliver a mysterious message to the emperor. The journey will take a year, and the artist has also been commanded to create a painting of each of the four seasons. Li Wen encounters many death-defying adventures on his journey. The villains and eccentrics he meets would all fit nicely into a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

During his travels, Li Wen learns many valuable lessons about life and art. Among them is the notion that art should not be discarded or denigrated just because it appears to be out of fashion. One could say the same of Frutkin’s short, delightful novel. The story has an old-fashioned feel; it could have been written hundreds of years ago. Yet the lessons Li Wen learns are applicable to contemporary audiences, especially followers of trends who believe the only acceptable art is that which embraces the flavour of the day.

Frutkin fans will undoubtedly find similarities in tone between this novel and his 2006 Trillium Book Award winner, Fabrizio’s Return. Both are elegantly written fairy tales for adults that give the sense that some magical wizard is directing events, a feeling that becomes very evident at the conclusion of A Message for the Emperor. A jaw-dropping surprise awaits that will make you want to reread the book from the beginning.


Reviewer: Paul Gessell

Publisher: Véhicule Press


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 188 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-55065-336-6

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2012-10

Categories: Fiction: Novels