My first tiff with this book is with the publisher for yet another "white washed" model instead of an Indian woman –actually it's not even washed, it'...moreMy first tiff with this book is with the publisher for yet another "white washed" model instead of an Indian woman – actually it's not even washed, it's blatantly Anglo-Saxon. Can't authenticity for once just overrule marketing's apparent beliefs that non-white models don't sell so well? I'm sure other Asians and ethnic minorities would agree. This is INSULTING.
Having said all that, I really liked the premise of this book, but it seemed restrained. It was very readable but the angst and passion just didn't feel genuine. I think touching more on the cultural divide would have been better than the "woe-is-me-beccause-I'm-a-Wolfe" arc.(less)
Jade Lee is now on my "interesting authors to watch out for" list. While I wasn't exactly enthralled with hot anticipation, I was impressed with the c...moreJade Lee is now on my "interesting authors to watch out for" list. While I wasn't exactly enthralled with hot anticipation, I was impressed with the change of scenery. Lee has tackled a sub-genre that is quite relative to me, and also very fascinating.
This is part of her Tigress series, all set in the exotic locale of China. This particular novel covers the inter-racial relationship between an upper class American white woman, Joanna Crane, and an aristocratic Manchurian crown prince (disguised as a Shaolin monk), Kang Zhou Tun.
Summing this up extremely loosely—Joanna, in an attempt to join the Boxer Rebellion out of her naive misplaced sense of justice and liberty, meets trouble with licentious revolutionaries, which is where Zhou Tun comes in. To his disbelief and anger, Joanna quickly discerns that he is Manchurian royalty. Fearful for his cover, he "takes" her to the Tigress Shi Po, where under her strict instruction they learn the way to enlightenment through carnal pleasure (whoddathunkit).
There is initial hostility and tension between Joanna and Zhou Tun, for all their cultural differences, but as they learn the way of the Dragon/Tigress (I'm picturing a Bruce Lee-esque type of guy here, heh) they come together in perfect harmony.
Lee has taken actual historical figures of the Qing Dynasty (such as the Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Shunzi) and spun a convincing and entertaining tale weaving them into the narrative to serve the blossoming romance between Zhou Tun and Joanna.
It's clear that Lee is very perceptive of both Western and Eastern sensibilities which I fully appreciate, and which is why the relations between Zhou Tun and Joanna never seem implausible or absurd (Taoist euphemisms aside). It might also be why I don't feel particularly piqued that while much of the imagery is sensual, the feeling isn't nearly enough to match it. There is a level of restraint in the writing, quite deeply laden with metaphor and philosophical ideals, which may be a hit or miss for readers.
The keyword for this book is UNIQUE. I hope to see more in the future.
I was rather looking forward to Reichen's story after Veil of Midnight but the plot's become more absurd, with pyrokinesis (now that's an awesome conc...moreI was rather looking forward to Reichen's story after Veil of Midnight but the plot's become more absurd, with pyrokinesis (now that's an awesome concept) as the one dividing factor in uniting two lovers together ... The good things about it though were the numerous locations for the setting (although Berlin could have been more ... detailed?) and in particular, the conflict and tension between Reichen, Clare and her Breedmate, Roth. The former two of whom unabashedly have a passionate affair, with the latter naturally (or quite unnaturally) seething. That was cool to read about. There should have been way more build-up for the ultimate showdown. The climax was downright anti-climatic, but you'll have to read it and see how dull it was. I think Adrian should have closed up this saga by now as things are feeling very tired by story's end.
Also, cover fails (yet again!) for not depicting the characters as they are described in the novel, but that's the editor and art director's (they actually have one in the office?!) problem. (less)
A deftly woven tale of political intrigue, betrayal and lies in a turbulent historical point in China, but at its heart a t...more[possible spoiler/s ahead:]
A deftly woven tale of political intrigue, betrayal and lies in a turbulent historical point in China, but at its heart a touching love story between two people—born worlds apart—who ultimately find love and communion in each other.
The Russian Concubine is very well researched and the authenticity of the setting and characters portrayed by Furnivall is spot-on. I can see why people would hate this book, judging from some reviews on the site here, thinking it a melodramatic and laughable epic, but that would mean they've unfortunately missed the point, and don't understand, or at least empathise with, the sensibilities of Chinese culture and in particular, the Chinese language, which is often so much more beautiful, philosophical and poignant than coarse (and inferior) English words could ever convey. So I think Furnivall's attempt to capture this rich but weathered landscape is executed very well.
Lydia and Chang An Lo's road to romance is bittersweet. I would also draw parallels with Theo and Li Mei. And that's the way love in a war-torn climate has always been—laden with suffering, but ultimately without suffering how can one appreciate happiness? When one's life can be snuffed in an instant? In this historical context in 1930s/40s China lovemaking and displays of affection are considered extremely private (hugs or pats on backs are even considered too intimate), so it's refreshing to see that notion being respected, but also unveiled, so to speak, in exquisite prose through the narrative voice. Not corny at all.
It's a cruel irony to witness Lydia's naive optimisim for a Communist China, knowing the events that will occur to overturn a great, ancient empire into a wasted and broken nation, in the not too far future. I wonder what Furnivall is inferring by positioning Lydia as a pro-Communist, also given her Russian background. It seems that this is also a subtle critique on Western dominance in China, and the sheer arrogance of the Europeans to impose their values and currency on the Chinese. Think the Opium War of the late 19th century, for instance, introduced by the British to Chinese soil, which is briefly touched on in the novel. Furnivall seems to tell it as it is, and doesn't come to any sort of resolution. Yet. Perhaps we'll get questions answered in the next novel, The Concubine's Secret.
This is similar in tone to Jade Lee's Tigress series, so if you're a fan of that, I think you'll like this novel. Perhaps more so. This isn't for the faint of heart (but then, given the subject, it shouldn't be otherwise); it's a quietly violent but nonetheless bittersweet story of resilience and faith.(less)