The Old Dragon’s Head by Justin Newland

Today I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Justin Newland’s novel The Old Dragon’s Head set in fifteenth-century China as part of a blog tour hosted by The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Ru was playing in their small garden while Luli sat at her writing desk. She moved her calligraphy brush over the paper. She was crafting ‘Zhongguo’, the two-character word for China. The Chinese character ‘zhong’ comprised four independent brush strokes. The character looked like an arrow hitting a target in the ‘middle’, from which it derived its core meaning. She added the descriptive character ‘guo’, meaning kingdom – hence Zhong-guo, Middle Kingdom.

Encapsulated in one word – Zhongguo – were the three ideas: that China was the kingdom in the middle of the earth, that it was a gateway between Heaven and the rest of the world, and that the Han people were a bridge between Heaven and the peoples of the world. Whenever any divine ch’i flowed from Heaven, it first appeared in the Zhongguo. Above all others, the gods favoured the Middle Kingdom and her Han people. Both were chosen to fulfil a special purpose on earth. And one day, one day soon, Luli would join that special purpose and help summon divine ch’i not only to the Zhongguo, but to the whole world.  

That was a noble idea, but her attention was drawn by the jerky, uneven nature of her brush strokes. They lacked her usual subtlety and finesse. Something was wrong and it wasn’t her. She decided to check the day’s almanac. She rifled through the charts, her eyes following the deft movement of her index finger, along row and column, until she found the relevant entry.

It indicated that today was a good day to receive a visitor.

Would that be Dong, she wondered? The Abbot often sent her parcels of food and bundles of firewood, but rarely visited himself. Perhaps her neighbour Bolin? But he never came to see her, because when he did call, it was for Ru. Of late, Bolin had joined the conscripts working on the wall, so she hadn’t seen much of him.

So long as it wasn’t that vile Bao. The man was dangerous and always abusing his senior position. She’d heard about his dreadful antics at the White Mulberry Inn the other day. She wasn’t surprised. She was a widow and even if she admitted it herself, she was still pretty – not youthful pretty, but elegant pretty. Bao would often pester her for a kiss and a cuddle and sometimes more. She was having none of that! What a gross apology for a man. 

Then it must be Feng. Twice, she had called on his house in the Yamen. The Lady Lan had asked her about some letters for him. He would be along to collect them sooner or later.

She pulled the lapels of her robe and rubbed her hands together. In a cup, she fingered a dozen bronze cash and a silver tael. Her finances were good. The Po Office business brought her a steady if unspectacular income. While it was over thirty years since the Hongwu Emperor had thrown the Mongols out, people were wary of the uneasy peace with them. Villagers in a border fortress like Shanhaiguan lived in daily fear that the blue wolves would swarm out of the northern steppes and re-occupy the Zhongguo. In the shadows of an uncertain future, people were cautious, but that failed to deter them from abiding by the traditional belief in soul transmigration.

Since the Song Dynasty, donors had left Po or soul envelopes for their successors and even passed on IOUs. Of late, the Great Ming Code had confirmed that financial debts were transferable in that way, so a soul donor could pass on their financial debt to the person who inherited their soul, a debt the latter would be liable to pay in full. Luli earned a fee from everyone who left a Po envelope with her, providing her with a profitable livelihood.

She put away her cup of money, tidied her writing desk and wandered into the herb garden. There she was pleased to find a few brave shoots nudging up through the cold earth. When they flowered, she’d need them to treat her growing list of patients.

The Great Wall of China may be constructed of stone and packed earth, but it is home to a supernatural beast – the Old Dragon. Both wall and dragon protect China’s northern borders from Mongol incursion. Just beyond the fortress of Shanhaiguan, the far eastern end of the wall protrudes into the Bohai Sea – that’s the Old Dragon’s Head.

Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. The local seer suspects that he has yin-yang eyes and other supernatural gifts. Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor. In the bitter war of succession, the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.

In every era, a man endowed with the powers of heaven – the Dragon Master – is born. Only he can summon the Old Dragon, providing he possesses the dragon pearl. It’s the year 1402, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. 

Bolin’s journey of self-discovery is mirrored by that of old China, as both endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?

The Old Dragon’s Head is available at
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Barnes & NobleWaterstonesKoboBlackwell’s UKBol NL
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at the author’s website
were buyers can enter a dedication to be signed by the author

Justin Newland

Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His historical novels feature known events and real people from the past, which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural.

His novels speculate on the human condition and explore the fundamental questions of our existence. As a species, as Homo sapiens sapiens – that’s man the twice-wise – how are we doing so far? Where is mankind’s spiritual home? What does it look or feel like? Would we recognise it if we saw it?

Undeterred by the award of a Doctorate in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, he found his way to the creative keyboard and conceived his debut novel, The Genes of Isis (Matador, 2018), an epic fantasy set under Ancient Egyptian skies.
Next came the supernatural thriller, The Old Dragon’s Head (Matador, 2018), set in Ming Dynasty China.
His third novel, The Coronation (Matador, 2019), speculates on the genesis of the most important event of the modern world – the Industrial Revolution.
His fourth, The Abdication (Matador, 2021), is a supernatural thriller in which a young woman confronts her faith in a higher purpose and what it means to abdicate that faith.
His stories add a touch of the supernatural to history and deal with the themes of war, religion, evolution and the human’s place in the universe.

He was born three days before the end of 1953 and lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.

For more information about Justin and his books click on the links below
InstagramAmazon Author PageGoodreads

More information on the Coffee Pot Book Club and other works of quality historical fiction can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Book Title: The Old Dragon’s Head
Author: Justin Newland
Publication Date: 28th November 2018
Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd.
Page Length: 257 pages

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