The Embers of Heaven by Alma Alexander HarperCollins, HK$112 Alma Alexander should have moved on to something new after 2004's The Secrets of Jin-Shei, which told of a sisterhood of female friends in medieval China who were empowered by a language no man understood. The Embers of Heaven picks up the tale 400 years on in the land of Syai, where women have won some rights but lost control of the tools of production. Worse is the disappearance of the strong female bond (jin-shei) that once gave the empire strength. Alexander's new protagonist, Amais, has an understanding of the secret language courtesy of original manuscripts left to her in jin-ashu, the exclusive female tongue. When she returns to Syai, Amais sets about resuscitating the sisterhood, only to find that history is on course to foil her plans: Syai citizens now carry a Golden Book written by someone called First Citizen Iloh, and, as foot soldiers of the Golden Wind, they insist on destroying everything that reminds them of the past. Alexander is not the first author to mix fact with fantasy, but her blend proves unsuccessful - perhaps because she's borrowing from real events stranger than fiction and tragedies too recent to trivialise.