Nine Dash Line by Emily Saso

Emily Saso’s frenetic novel Nine Dash Line takes the reader back to the late 1980s and the tense and tangled post-Tiananmen geopolitics of Southeast Asia.  

Jess Toth is an American intelligence officer assigned to an aircraft carrier (the first female to receive such a distinction in the history of the US Navy). But Jess’s backstory is difficult and her trajectory up the ranks is anything but smooth. Jess’s mother, Dorothy, joined the Navy during WW2 with the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), but stayed on after the war to work in intelligence under the command of Admiral Grover Sacks. After her mother’s sudden and untimely death from a burst aneurysm, teenage Jess transferred her love for her mother to Sacks, her regard for him approaching reverence. As Jess enters her twenties, Sacks, aware of her potential, and mindful of the sway he has over her, persuades Jess to join the service. To say that Jess is damaged goods is an understatement: her mother’s early death (which she witnessed) has left her traumatized and angry. She is, however, devoted to Sacks and willingly submits to his bidding.  

“The story that Emily Saso has fashioned from this intricate setup generates great tension.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Zi Shan has come of age in a tiny Chinese mountain village isolated from the politics of the day and the brutalities the Communists are inflicting on their own people. After achieving, at a young age, a kind of legendary fame as “The Boy Who Climbed the Sky Ladder,” he is forcefully recruited by the Chinese Communist Party, becoming, in his ignorance, a devoted acolyte of the country’s leader. Later, he falls in love with a young woman named Yijun and marries her. They have a daughter. Zi Shan’s life is moving forward, but it’s happening as China is undergoing a transformation. By this time, it is the late 1980s, Mao is long dead, and the country’s aging leadership is watching, seemingly powerless to stem the tide, as a popular uprising erupts around demands for greater freedoms. In Beijing, the movement converges on the city centre, with protesters occupying Tiananmen Square. Yijun, against her husband’s wishes, joins the protest with tragic consequences, and Zi Shan’s life is changed forever.  

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The story that Emily Saso has fashioned from this intricate setup generates great tension and moves via numerous twists and turns toward a confrontation between Jess and Zi Shan on a remote atoll in the South China Sea, where Zi Shan has been exiled and Jess has been delivered by Sacks on a secret mission to rescue the Chinese national and convince him to defect to the US. Along the way, both Jess and Zi Shan overcome enormous challenges, conquering self-doubt and proving their mettle time and time again. The story focuses on the struggles of these two individuals—from incompatible worlds and raised with different sets of values—to overcome the obstacles placed in their way and reach a detente. But looming over the action, and drawing everything together, is the craving for hegemony of two world superpowers, both determined to exert control over a corner of the globe that is crucial to their military, political and economic goals.  

Saso’s second novel (after The Weather Inside, 2016) delivers plenty of thrills and action, even a few diverting flashes of hilarity. But in their more contemplative moments, both Jess and Zi Shan are given separate opportunities to consider how past events and some questionable decisions have shaped their lives and brought them to a terrifying impasse. In Nine Dash Line, Emily Saso has written a truly original work of fiction, a rousing and disturbing novel inspired by history, richly reimagined and stunningly executed.


About the Author

Emily Saso is the author of two novels, The Weather Inside and Nine Dash Line. She holds her master’s degree in political science (with a specialization in international security studies), and lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Freehand Books (Sept. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 260 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990601154
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990601156

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