Today I’d like to welcome L.J. LaBarthe back to my blog to discuss her m/m historical novel, City of Jade, set on the Silk Road. Over to you, L.J.!
Thanks for having me guest on your blog again, Jacqui. It’s always great to be here and I’m thrilled to be able to talk about my latest release, City of Jade.
City of Jade is set in the twelfth century and is the story of Misahuen of Gyeongju in Korea and Gallienus of Constantinople. The laws of the period were extremely harsh in regards homosexuality in the Byzantine Empire and the West, and Gallienus and Misahuen, because of those laws, planned to leave Constantinople and seek their future elsewhere. The book explores their deepening relationship as they work as caravan guards for a merchant and his family, travelling along the Silk Road from Constantinople to Hangzhou in China.
I am a historian, and a quote from David Eddings, an author I’m very fond of, says that “turn a historian over and you’ll find a storyteller.” I think that’s quite true, as history is the story of humans past and is endlessly fascinating. For myself, I find the Byzantine Empire of particular interest and the years of the Third Crusade as well. The twelfth century is a century that I have spent a lot of time researching for various reasons, and because of that, I felt most comfortable setting a novel in that time period. I am also interested in pre-revolutionary and Viking Russia; Celtic France, Brittany and England; Imperial China; Imperial Korea; pre-British India; ancient Egypt; Paris in the belle époque and pre-fifteenth century trade routes.
I come from a family of historians and researchers—my mother has her degree in classical studies, particularly Imperial Rome. My father was an avid researcher of family history and genealogy, tracing back our lineage to the middle ages. My cousin’s interests include medical physics, history of medicine and the history of ancient Japan. I grew up with the myths and legends of Greece, Rome and Egypt, and one of my favourite TV shows as a kid in the 70s was a show called Isis. Behold the (very) cheesy opening credits:
I love research. I’m not sure if it’s possible to love history and not enjoy research, but I really do love it. I love digging through libraries—on and offline—looking for details about things. I’ve researched clothing, home wares, armour, weapons, tents, and, for “City of Jade,” things like maps of the Silk Road in the twelfth century, food and recipes, different waterworks methods and more. I hit Google hard, and Google delivered. The first debate I had on the subject actually had to do with westerners entering China. I had to prove, beyond shadow of doubt, that Marco Polo was not the first westerner in China, he was simply the most well-known. There have been discoveries in recent years in archaeological digs that show that China and ancient Rome were known to each other and engaged in trade and diplomatic exchanges. Fascinating stuff, and I did get caught up reading as much as I could find.
I have an extensive bibliography at the back of the novel, because I am sure there will be those who wish to read the sources that I consulted. I have also put the bibliography on my website and that can be found here. Ultimately, though, this book could not have happened without maps, and thankfully, there are quite a few of those that I consulted. Without the maps and without history pointing out that westerners did indeed go into China much earlier than is popularly thought, “City of Jade” would be a very, very different book—still written with love, both of the characters, the history and the research, but set in a different country.
City of Jade Excerpt:
Now, they rode away from the beautiful city of Samarkand, leaving behind the desert to the west and the broad river upon whose banks Samarkand sparkled like a jewel set in a band of sapphire. The landscape through which they rode was a mixture of dusty-brown colored, dirt-covered hills—a legacy of a hot summer—and rolling fields of wheat.
The road wound through all of this, a thin, light-brown ribbon weaving between green, red, and dark brown. The clouds scudded overhead, and the sky was a bright blue. In the distance, the snowcapped tops of mountains raked the sky like talons, and Gallienus wondered what the mountain range was called and what lay on the other side of it.
Misahuen was at his side, as it seemed he had always been. Gallienus could not imagine his life without Misahuen beside him. Misahuen’s hair reached almost to his waist now, and he had taken to braiding the length of it so it was kept out of his eyes as much as possible. Gallienus loved Misahuen’s hair, loved the silky feel of it, the weight of it as he ran his hands through it. It did not make Misahuen look at all feminine, as long hair often did in Gallienus’s experience. Rather, it made him look like a proud warrior chieftain from the East, riding a strong steed and armed with formidable weaponry. In short, he was gorgeous, sexy, and utterly desirable.
And the love of Gallienus’s life.
The hooves of their animals sent up little eddies of dust as they pounded on the road. They rode at a walk, conserving their beasts, and Stephanos was talking expansively to his sons, his voice carrying back to the guards who protected the rear of the caravan.
Misahuen smiled at Gallienus, and Gallienus returned it, basking in the warmth and love he saw in his eyes. The ointment had worked better than he had dared to hope, and so his hip did not ache so much. The tea, despite tasting like dirt and tree bark, was a good painkiller and took the edge off the worst of the muscle ache and joint pain. All in all, Gallienus felt a lot better about himself and his place within the caravan than he had since Nishapur.
“Do you think we will be attacked on this part of the road?” Misahuen asked.
Gallienus shrugged. “It’s hard to say. Not as yet, but when we reach the forests, perhaps. There is cover for bandits to hide within. That is why I have had our archers on the edges of the guard line.”
Misahuen looked puzzled. “Then why am I not there also?”
“Because your bow is longer than theirs. So there is more reach with yours. Therefore, your arrows will fly further and take out any brigands who may be loitering beyond the reach of our other archers.”
“Oh.” Misahuen’s expression cleared. “Yes, that makes sense.”
“Also, you are good with the horses and these animals may bolt in panic. So you and Yusuf are near them in case they need to be calmed.”
“I see. Yes, I understand.”
The road began to climb up a steady incline, and the camels protested loudly, one of them spitting. Gallienus laughed at the horrified expression on the handler’s face as the animal ground its teeth together. “They are amusing beasts.”
“Except that their spit smells bad. It is not good to have them spit on you,” the handler said.
“I will remember that.” Gallienus patted Adrastos’s neck as the horse pranced beneath him.
Buy it from Dreamspinner Press:
L. J. LaBarthe can be found at the following locations: