When Pheasant becomes Emperor his uncle advises the court that Taizong made a will before his death installing the uncle as Regent over Pheasant even though Pheasant was an adult. Pheasant is married to Lady Wang, now Empress Wang, who has been barren during their 7 year marriage. Empress Wang has become a bitter woman and treats the concubines abysmally, especially Mei whom she is jealous of. Mei has been able to produce 2 children for the new Emperor and is not only her rival but a rival of the new Regent. Mei is promoted to the Most Adored title (the Emperor's favorite) early in the story and is given another new title that is higher than the other high ranking concubines, Luminous Lady. There are concubines titled as Talents, Graces, Beauties and Leading Ladies. Mei struggles to obtain power as she battles her 2 rivals.
I have loved both of the books in the duology and am thinking about re-reading them soon. They are that good. The female characters are strong but there are less of them in book 2. The plot is mainly about Mei's problems with the Regent and Empress Wang as well as Pheasant's struggles with his Regent and the court in general. The other high ranking concubines are not as central to the plot as they were in book 1. Both books are well researched. The political intrigue during the Tang dynasty and in the palace are represented well.
A must read for historical fiction fans.