13 year old Wu Mei is excited to be chosen as a concubine for Emperor Taizong. She believes that she can help her family regain its standing if she is able to impress the Emperor and become his Most Adored ie, his favorite. It is hard to be summoned by the Emperor as there are many concubines and a bedding schedule that must be followed. Being young and unfamiliar with court rules and politics she is taken advantage of by another concubine named Jewel who takes Mei's place after Mei is summoned by the Emperor and soon becomes Most Adored.
Mei meets a boy at court called Pheasant and falls in love with him. They secretly arrange to meet on several occasions. However, Mei continues to pursue the Emperor and receives several promotions and demotions that seem to be controlled by Jewel. One evening while she is in the Emperor's bedroom she is seen by Pheasant. Mei discovers that Pheasant is one of the Emperor's sons and is embarrassed by her actions. Still feeling a need to help her family Mei plays court politics to her advantage but continues to be challenged by Jewel.
I was spellbound by this story and read it in one sitting. It was impossible to put down and I was up at 2 am trying to finish reading it. The story is primarily about the political machinations of the Emperor's concubines as they befriend, betray and befriend each other again in order to gain power. As such, there is alot of court intrigue as they battle each other to become Most Adored or even the new Empress.
What is unusual about the story is that there are many strong female characters. These concubine are no dummies and are more than adept at court politics. Other interesting aspects of the book are the rules concerning the Emperor's wardrobe and the running of the silkworm houses. I especially enjoyed the information on how to raise silkworms.
All in all, The Moon in the Palace was a great read.