Exploring Epic Love, Queer Representation, & Rich Asian History in ‘The Emperor and the Endless Palace’

Step into a world where love knows no bounds and transcends time itself, as AAPI author Justinian Huang captivates readers with his debut novel, The Emperor and the Endless Palace, a mesmerizing blend of romance, fantasy, and historical intrigue.

Justinian Huang takes the literary scene by storm with his stunning debut, The Emperor and the Endless Palace. This groundbreaking “romantasy” features not only a gripping love story that defies the ages but also champions LGBTQ and AAPI representation in a thrilling and deeply personal way.

Two Men, Endless Lives: A Roller-Coaster Ride of Love, Fate, and Timeless Romance!

Through the labyrinthine corridors of ancient palaces, the wilds of Asian forests, and the pulsating energy of underground rave scenes, two lovers find themselves eternally connected by fate. Their bond, forged across countless lives, is both a source of strength and potential destruction as they navigate the challenges of each new world they encounter.

As their stories weave together, the men uncover the true power of their love—a force so potent it transcends time itself. However, this profound connection may also be their undoing.

Huang’s debut novel is unpredictable and thrilling. It blends romance, fantasy, and historical intrigue in a way that redefines our understanding of true love. The Emperor and the Endless Palace promises a gripping, genre-defying experience that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

In the following conversation, Huang shares the inspirations behind his novel, the challenges he faced, and the powerful message he hopes to convey through his timeless tale of love and reincarnation.

Related | Get Life Advice from Gay Icons in Michael Joosten’s New Book – ‘The Gay Icon’s Guide to Life’

Interview with the Author

The Emperor and the Endless Palace spans multiple timelines and genres. What inspired you to weave together such different eras and settings into a single narrative?

Justinian Huang: As a queer Asian man, I wanted to show that queerness has reverberated throughout my culture from ancient times to today. So when I decided to adapt the true story of Emperor Ai and his male lover Dong Xian, to reincarnate them as soulmates through Chinese history felt like a fun challenge. And it was.

Can you talk about the significance of queer representation in your novel and how meaningful it is for you to be sharing one today?

Huang: When I came out as a young man, I was told that “Asians can’t be gay,” like it is some sort of modern, Western affliction. So for me to write this book with all queer Asian leads is incredibly meaningful, for sure. But what is more meaningful to me is that the book is entertaining, that it is thrilling and provocative and unique, and I hope it is all those things!

The love story between the Emperor and Dong Xian is both historical and tragic. How did you balance historical accuracy with creative freedom in telling their story?

Huang: It happened so long ago that there isn’t a lot known about them, so I actually got to make up a lot of the stuff. At first, I didn’t know how to characterize Dong Xian… is he just a Disney princess that everything happens to? How much autonomy should he have? When I decided that, no, he should instead be an ambitious fuckboy, that is when the story really started taking shape in my head.

There are some delicious villains in the Endless Palace, like the Grand Empress Dowager Fu and Commander Jujun, that are entirely based on real people, and that just made them all the more interesting to research and write. It was me channeling Game of Thrones, but making it Chinese!

How did your experiences in the queer underground scenes in Asia influence the modern-day parts of your novel?

Huang: Honestly? Pretty much everything that happens in the circuit parties in my book happened to a young me… I even met my soulmate at a circuit party and we proceeded to romantically torture each other for many years. That said, I have yet to stumble upon a sex cult ritual in an ancient temple, but never say never.

Reincarnation and eternal love are central themes in your book. What drew you to these concepts, and how did you develop them in the story?

Huang: I lived in Shanghai from 2015 to 2020, and I rediscovered my Buddhist roots during that time. I was particularly fascinated by reincarnation. I was going through a tough time, so I went to my godmother in Taipei for counseling. She is a Buddhist nun, and she told me that each of our lifetimes is simply one sentence in the unending novel of our soul’s journey through eternity.

Originally, the three timelines of my book were parallel, only intersecting thematically. After hearing what my godmother told me, I decided that my central lovers (the Emperor and Dong Xian) should actually be reincarnating throughout the ages, destined to relive their love story over and over again.

Your novel explores Asian representation in a deeply personal way. How did your cultural background shape the characters and settings in your book?

Huang: I simply wrote what I know.

The novel features a mix of romance, fantasy, and erotic elements. How did you blend these genres to create a cohesive story?

Huang: I have no formal training as a novelist. In fact, I just wrote this book as a pandemic project while isolating in my mom’s attic. So I’m not sure how I managed to blend them into something cohesive! I just wrote whatever thrilled me.

What challenges did you face in writing a debut novel that spans such a vast array of themes and timelines?

Huang: My almost 20-year career as a film exec has given me an almost instinctual ability to structure and beat out story, which definitely helped with writing this book.

How did your background in screenwriting and film influence your approach to writing The Emperor and the Endless Palace?

Huang: Other than the above, I also really value pacing in a good film, and I wanted to lend that to my book. I wanted my book to feel like a rollercoaster, full of twists and turns, and teeter-tottering cliffhangers. Having spent my adult life reading the best scripts, I think I picked up a few tricks along the way.

What message or feeling do you hope readers take away from the love story of the Emperor and Dong Xian?

Huang: Well actually, The Emperor and the Endless Palace is meant to be the first of a trilogy… so their love story is not complete yet!

Can you share any interesting historical details or research discoveries that influenced the plot or characters in your novel?

Huang: I was particularly fascinated by the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, which was an imperial stamp that was used by Emperor Ai and many emperors that came before and after him, and was this legendary artifact of almost magical status. It has since been lost to time, but it makes an appearance in my book–several appearances, in fact!

How did your time living in China impact your writing, particularly in capturing the historical and cultural nuances of your story?

Huang: I was head of development at DreamWorks’s studio in Shanghai, where I got to work with some of the best Chinese creatives, so I would say my tenure there really made me fall in love with my culture and our beautiful stories. It’s why one of the timelines of my book is an adaptation of a classic queer folktale by Pu Songling, about a lonely innkeeper that falls in love with a male fox spirit.

What role do you see your novel playing in the broader landscape of queer and Asian representation in literature?

Huang: I hope it is the predecessor to many more queer Asian books. Similarly to how I view myself as a big brother to the next generation of queer and Asian folks, I can only hope that The Emperor and the Endless Palace serves the same purpose.

What have you learned about yourself and your craft while writing and publishing The Emperor and the Endless Palace?

Huang: I’ve learned that I have thick skin. My book is critically acclaimed, but there are a lot of gatekeepers in the reading community who are very harsh to newcomers like me. That said, I’m nearly done with my second novel with HarperCollins, and I intend to keep writing and finding my audience. This new career is the surprise of my lifetime, and I’m loving every moment of it. I feel like the luckiest person in the world, and I’m not going to waste it!

How to snag your copy:

Buy your copy at HarperCollins, Amazon, & more HERE

More Stories:

Exploring Epic Love, Queer Representation, & Rich Asian History in ‘The Emperor and the Endless Palace’
To Top