Jeannie Lin’s 2017 Gunpowder Alchemy is the first novel in her Gunpowder Chronicles.
1842: Chief Engineer Jin Zhi-fu’s final service to the Chinese empire was to accept all blame for the empire’s disastrous defeat by the Western powers. The emperor being perfect by definition, no blame could be placed on his orders. While not supported by mere facts, Jin’s guilt serves a higher purpose. He is executed for his unforgivable crimes.
Eight years later his family is living in disgrace in an obscure village. Jin’s daughter Soling is desperately trying to keep her opium addicted mother alive and supplied with the drugs she needs. She also must keep her younger brother Tian out of back-breaking servitude. When necessary, she sells family heirlooms. Now she is down to her final treasure, a puzzle box.