Imperial Lady

~ 1st Novel in the Central Asia Series by Andre Norton

Written with Susan Shwartz

imperial lady


Synopsis ~

Write-up from the front flap of the 1989 dustjacket ~

Silver Snow, the beautiful daughter of a disgraced general of the Imperial Army, has always lived in exile. Far from the heart of the empire she has been free to learn the arts of war and hunting. Her only female companion is her maid Willow, an enchanting girl who talks to wild animals,
But an Imperial Envoy changes Silver Snow's simple life forever. The emperor has ended his year of mourning for the death of his Chief Consort and has summoned five hundred maidens to fill his halls with life and laughter. Here is a chance for Silver Snow to change her father's bad fortune. Gathering the last shreds of her family's wealth she and Willow prepare for the journey.
But Silver Snow is totally unprepared for the intense politics of the Lady's Court. and is shamed for her lack of feminine virtues. Unwittingly she offends the Chief Eunuch, who will paint the portraits viewed by the emperor. The resulting portrait is so horrible that the emperor orders Silver Snow confined to the Cold Palace. . . for the rest of her life.
But Fate is not finished with Silver Snow, and after only a year of confinement she is called before the emperor and, to her utter astonishment, elevated to Princess Royal as his adopted daughter - and immediately sent to Mongolia as the bond in a peace agreement between the Hsuing-nu and Imperial China.
Now she will travel beyond the Great Wall to the mysterious land of the Mongolian tribes, the place that brought disgrace to her father. And she goes as bride to a man she has never seen. Along the way several of her ladies are attacked by something that lurks in the night but cannot be seen.
Upon arriving in the summer encampment Silver Snow learns that her marriage is a sham, the Chief is too old and feeble to truly take a bride. She is given to Strong Tongue, his first wife, and ultimately forced into slavery. Strong Tongue is a powerful Shamaness who is determined to make her son Chief...and will kill anyone who gets in her way.
Though she has fallen in love with the Chief's youngest son, Silver Snow valiantly struggles to keep the old chief alive. But she is an outsider, and her maid a changeling...who will stand beside her against Strong Tongue, and what will she do when the old Chief dies?


Write-up from the back of paperback edition ~

Her name was Lady Silver Snow, and she lived in a distant land long, long ago…
The hand of fate brought her to the sumptuous court of the Son of Heaven, Emperor of China, to be his concubine. But it was her own intelligent and passionate sprit that led her beyond those sheltered walls and into the “Barbarian” grasslands – to be a queen!
Based on the life of a real historical princess of the Han dynasty, mixed with Chinese legendary and a generous dose of high wizardry, Andre Norton (A Grande Master of Fantasy) joins with Susan Swartz (a rising talent in the field) to create a stirring, romantic, and unforgettable tale. 


Write-up from a fan ~

Susan Swartz and Andre got together to tell a fantasy about an actual historical Lady who lived in China during the Han Dynasty. They changed her name from Chao Chun to Silver Snow and gave her a shape-changing herblore-wise servant (Willow) whom she came to love like a sister. Silver Snow was the daughter of a disgraced general who had spent 10 years in captivity by the Mongols. Her brothers had died in battle and her father taught her to ride and hunt. She could shoot an arrow better than most men and read Confucius as well as well as Sun Tzu's The Art of War. She was surprised to learn that the emperor (having completed a year of mourning for his favorite wife) had ordered 500 beautiful women to be sent to him so that he could find a new wife, and she was selected. Her father sent all his house treasure with her to present to the emperor. The party was attacked by bandits had her bow helped save them all. The emperor, instead of meeting the whole lot, let his chief eunuch paint their pictures so he could pick a First Consort using the paintings as a guide. The treacherous, greedy eunuch confiscated her father's treasures after she refused to pay him a bribe. He then painted a horrible picture of Silver Snow, even giving her a mole under one eye. She was banished to a remote palace with only her maid for company. After a year, a delegation from the Hsiung-nu (a Mongol tribe) came to sign a treaty with China. Among their settlements was a Chinese princess as a wife for their Shan-Yu (chief). Thinking that Silver Snow was ugly, he adopts her as a princess and promises her to the Hsiung-nu. Then he sees her, and she so closely resembles his beloved late wife that he tries to keep her for his own, but his honor makes him let her go. She told him what the Eunuch had done, and the emperor had him executed. Accompanied by the Hsiung-nu prince Vughturoi, she travels to the encampment of the Hsiung-nu and meets the Shan-Yu a very old man whom she charms and is welcomed as "First Wife". She discovers that she has a deadly and powerful enemy--Strong Tongue, the Hsiung-nu's Shaman and mother of the oldest prince, Tadiqan . She will do anything to get her son made Shan-Yu. Intimidation, sorcery, and even murder will dance to the beat of her spirit drum. Silver Snow's fighting spirit and Willow's talents and knowledge are all that stand between her and annihilation. Though based upon historical events, this story is very exciting and entertaining. At times it is hard to put down. ~ PG


Reviews ~

Review by Publishers Weekly ~ Jan. 01, 1989

Master storyteller Norton has teamed up with Shwartz ( Silkroads and Shadows) to produce an eerie and delightful tale about a girl who goes from outcast at the court of the Han emperor to queen of a barbarian horde in the steppes of central Asia. Accompanied by her maid Willow, a shapechanger of the fox people, Silver Snow, daughter of a disgraced general, is dispatched to court as a potential new concubine for the emperor. Because she is too poor to bribe him, however, the chief eunuch depicts her as uncivilized and ugly, and she is banished to the Cold Palace without ever meeting the emperor. When members of the Hsiung-nu migrant horde come seeking peace and a Han princess as bride for their shan-yu (leader) Khujanga, Silver Snow is chosen as a subtle insult. The intelligent and active girl sees an opportunity to bring her father back to favor and restore her family. Becoming bride in name only to the elderly Khujanga, she gains the love and respect of the horsemen and her husband, but also provokes the enmity of the shaman Strong Tongue, first wife of the shan-yu and mother of his vicious son. Norton and Shwartz bring a little-known time vividly to life, creating a believable heroine in an era when women were considered chattels or playthings.


Various reviews ~ For more info and other listings see Articles Over the Years

1989 by Carolyn Cushman in Locus #344, September
1990 by Doug Odell in Science Fiction Review Vol. 1 #3 (fnz), Autumn
1991 by Marlene Y. Satter ~ Top Shelf, Sept. 12


Dedications and Acknowledgements ~

Selections of poetry that appear throughout this book are taken from more than a thousand years of Chinese verse. They have been drawn from two principal sources:
The Orchid Boat: Woman Poets of China, edited and translated by Kennoth Rexroth and Ling Chung, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1972. Selections include part of the "Lament of Hsi-chun" (110 B.C.) and the "Poem Written on a Floating Red Leaf" (ninth century A.D.) of Ts-ui-p'in. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Copyright @ Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Translations From the Chinese, by Arthur Waley, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941. Selections drawn from a T'ang dynasty poem; Wu-ti's poems on Li Fu-jen; and from "The Prisoner." All rights reserved. Used with permission.


Bibliography of English Editions ~

  • (1989) Published by TOR, HC, 0-312-93128-X, $17.95, 293pg ~ cover by Luis Royo {Black paper Boards}
  • (1990) Published by TOR, PB, 0-812-50722-3, $3.95, 293pg ~ cover by Luis Royo
  • (2017) Published by Worldbuilders Press, DM, no ISBN, $3.99, 257pg ~ cover by Matt Forsyth
  • (2018) Published by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, PB, 978-1-680-68017-1, $11.99, 290pg ~ cover by Matt Forsyth


Non-English Editions ~

  • (1991) Published in Barcilona, Spain: by Editorial Timun Mas, S.A., 8-47722-364-5, HC, 334pg ~ translation by Francisco Rodríguez de Lecea ~ Spanish title Dama Imperial [Imperial Lady]
  • (1995) Published in Poland; by Amber, 83-708-2854-X, 344pg ~ translation by Anna Wojtaszczyk ~ cover by Mark Harrison ~ Polish title Cesarska Córka [Imperial Daughter]
  • (2001) Published in Moscow, by Eksmo, 5-040-07982-6, HC, 352pg ~ translation by Dmitry Arseniev ~ cover by Luis Royo ~ Russian title Серебряная Снежинка [Silver Snowflake]

View the Original contract

For information on editions currently available visit the Book Store


Below is an image of a seal or "chop" with Andre’s name in English and Chinese belonging to Andre, Image courtesy of Victor Horadam and will become property of Texas A & M University in their Andre Norton collection.  Posted here because we are thinking it was given to her to commemorate the Book “Imperial Lady”.  Mark Karpinski a longtime friend of Andre’s remembers using it at various conventions to stamp Andre things for fans but does not remember how she obtained it. If you have any different info, please let us know. Note: We are attempting to get better images.




Open menu