Review: ‘The Old Dragon’s Head’, by Justin Newland


Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which 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.

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s 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?

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My Review

Thanks to Kelly of Love Books Tours for organising the tour and Justin Newland for sending me a copy of his book.

Feng is the son of the local magistrate. Bolin in the son of a fisherman. When the Prince of Yan turns expectations on their head by appointing Gang to replace Feng’s father as Magistrate, both their worlds are turned upside down. They have to survive Gang’s revenge, the invading Mongols and somehow release the Laolong, the yellow dragon, protector of China. And find out who killed the last Dragon Master, Wing, 20 years’ before. All while accepting their own destinies.

A story steeped in Chinese history and mythology, The Old Dragon’s Head takes the reader to early 15th century China, on an adventure of heavenly proportions. It reads a little like a prose translation of an epic poem from the period. There’s a feeling of authenticity to the lives and beliefs of the characters. The writing style works for the story.

I enjoyed the different perspectives and the magical realism, the descriptions of the weather conditions and the struggle to survive. The battle was particularly good. I could see this as a film. The setting of the Great Wall, with it’s massive gates and the freezing sea, were a constant touch point in the story, like the dragon. I am not unaware of the allegory inherent in the text but I read it first and foremost as a piece of historical fantasy with a rich, authentic setting.

A good read, fairly historically accurate in terms of setting and attitudes.

Author Bio

Justin Newland with copies of his books. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

After a long career in I.T., Justin’s love of literature finally seduced him and, in 2006, he found his way to the creative keyboard to write his first novel.

Justin writes secret histories in which historical events and people are guided and motivated by numinous and supernatural forces.

His debut novel, The Genes of Isis, is a tale of love, destruction, and ephemeral power set under the skies of Ancient Egypt, and which tells the secret history of the human race, Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

His second is The Old Dragon’s Head, a historical fantasy and supernatural thriller set during the Ming Dynasty and played out in the shadows the Great Wall of China. It explores the secret history of the influences that shaped the beginnings of our times.  

He is currently working on a novel set in East Prussia during the Enlightenment in the 18th Century which reveals the secret history of perhaps the single most important event of the modern world – The Industrial Revolution.

Justin does books signings and gives author talks in libraries in South West England. He has appeared at many Literary Festivals, including Bristol, Weston-super-mare and Exeter. He regularly gives interviews on BBC local radio and local FM radio stations. 

Further Information




Reviews of the Novel, The Old Dragon’s Head:

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R Cawkwell

Hi I'm Rosemarie and I like to write. I write short stories and longer fiction, poetry and occasionally articles. I'm working on quite a few things at the minute and wouldn't mind one day actually getting published in print.

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