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Book Recommendation | The Cold Palace by Award-Winning Author @MelissaAddey #historicalfiction

Title: The Cold Palace

Author: Melissa Addey

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Letterpress Publishing

Book Blurb:

18th Century China. In a devastating breach of etiquette, the Empress of China cuts off her hair and is exiled by a furious Emperor to ‘the cold palace’. Historians still do not know what caused her to take this step.

Ula Nara is a happy sixteen-year-old, in love and betrothed. But before she can be married, she must attend the Imperial Daughters’ Draft. When she is chosen as a bride to the heir to the throne, her beloved vows to become a monk, while Ula Nara must face a lifetime of regret. Determined to make her pain worth something, she aims for the pinnacle of success: to become Empress. But perhaps being an Empress is not worth as much as she thought, and happiness may lie in the simpler things. The final book in The Forbidden City series, this is a chance to understand Ula Nara, a terrifying and powerful rival to the other ladies of the court.

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The woman shakes her head. “Malodorous,” she snaps.

The rejected girl’s face flushes crimson in shame as she is led

away, back to her family. Apparently, the smell from her armpits

would have been offensive to an Imperial nose. Beijing at the end of

the sixth month is unbearably hot, I’m surprised all of the girls here

have not been rejected for this reason.

The sturdy woman approaches and gestures impatiently for me to

raise my arm. I, like all the other girls here, have already had to shed

my fine outer robes, made of the best silk my family could afford. I

asked my mother to send me in something plainer, still afraid of being

chosen, but she refused.

“I won’t be shamed,” she said huffily. “I know you don’t want to

be chosen, Ula Nara, but you will be examined by the Palace officials.

They will see your father’s name and our Banner on the paperwork

beside your own name. I won’t have them look down their noses at us

just because you wouldn’t wear the best we can provide.”

And so I arrived this morning at an administrative hall in Beijing,

just outside the Forbidden City itself. It seems we will not be allowed

into its hallowed precincts until we have been selected as the most

superior candidates. I am dressed in a beautiful robe, the best I have

ever owned. It is a delicate blue like a spring sky, covered with intricate

embroidery featuring fluttering magpies and trees heavy with golden

peaches, all symbols for love and happiness, for longevity, prosperity

and future sons, highly auspicious and appropriate for today. It was

removed in moments. Eunuchs gathered around each girl in turn to

disrobe us and leave us in nothing but our under-robes. The room

we are in is large and stifling, full of girls disrobing and re-robing

as they are inspected by stout older women elaborately dressed to

show off their status as senior ladies-in-waiting, perhaps wives to

important court officials. Eunuchs bustle about: some assisting with

the undressing and dressing, some noting down comments made by

the ladies on each girl and reminding them of every candidate’s status

and family. Perhaps a smelly girl will be reassessed if her family is very

important, perhaps a lowly girl from an out-of-favour family will be

marked down as malodorous as a good way of removing her from the

possibility of being chosen.

I lift my arm as instructed and the sturdy woman assigned to my

row puts her face against my armpit and inhales loudly. I look away

in embarrassment and when I look back she is nodding briskly to the

eunuch at her side, who makes a note against my name. It seems I do

not stink. I look hopefully about for my robe to be given back to me,

but instead the woman kneels in front of me and lifts up my underskirts.

I step backwards.

“Keep still, you stupid girl,” she says. I stop moving and gaze

down at her in horror as she sticks her face under the skirts, close to

my private parts and I hear her inhale again. She emerges and nods

to the eunuch, ignoring my now scarlet face. Apparently, every part

of me must be found to be acceptable to the sensitivities of a possible

Imperial husband.

By the time I have regained my composure and my robe, my

hair is being checked for lice and my teeth scrutinised. The Court

Physician takes my twelve pulses and examines my tongue before he

pronounces me to be of a cold and damp disposition, something the

Imperial kitchens will take into account when cooking for me, should

I end up residing here.

“Bound feet? You have bound feet?!”

Heads turn. A girl has been found with bound feet, despite being

Manchu. She looks terrified. We all crane our heads to see under her

skirts, catch a glimpse of tiny pointed stubs encased in embroidered

slippers and then quickly look away again. The head eunuch is


“Bound feet are forbidden! As you and your family are well

aware. What were they thinking, a noble Manchu family copying the

disgusting habits of the common Han Chinese? Your family will be

fined and you and all your sisters will be rejected for any possible

union with the Imperial Family.”

The weeping girl is led away while we try not to stare. I wonder

whether bound feet are worth having to avoid marriage to the Imperial

Family but it’s too late now, they would have had to have been bound

when I was a toddler and my family would never have done such a


More and more girls are dismissed. I start to worry, thinking

there are not, after all, hundreds of us to choose from, before recalling

that today is merely one of multiple preliminary rounds, when any

small reason will have us sent home again. I hope to be sent home for

something trivial, perhaps poor posture or an inelegant kowtow but as

the day progresses I am still not dismissed. I am from a good family

and a military background, any minor faults I have are perhaps being

overlooked or minimised, allowed to slip through. They can’t get rid

of too many girls, they want a good showing when we are selected,

after all.

Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):

Author Biography:

I mainly write historical fiction: my first novel, The Fragrant Concubine, was Editor’s Choice at the Historical Novel Society, my latest, The Cold Palace, won the 2019 Novel London award. I was the Leverhulme Trust Writer in Residence at the British Library and now run regular workshops there. I am just completing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. I live in London with my husband and two young children who help me with research trips and exploring new eras.

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1 Comment

N. N. Light
N. N. Light
Mar 02, 2020

Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your award-winning book with us. It's such a beautiful book!

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