Andy O'Keefe's Reviews > Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
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Jul 13, 12

Read in October, 2011

I just don't think this author did her research fully on this novel, given what I already know about ancient China. It was a pleasant novel, and I would like to believe it, but a few incidents just stick in my craw, causing me to take the whole thing with a grain of salt. We are expected to believe that Orchid, after being chosen as concubine of the Emperor of China, is then sent home. Now I already know that the Chinese were fanatical about their women being virgin, and Min in fact describes the process where Orchid is examined for virginity. If Orchid is sent home, rather than being kept in the palace after being formally declared a virgin, she could lose that virginity and even conceive a child that was not the Emperor's. She describes how she bribed her way into the Emperor's bedchamber. She could do so, and pass off a child that was not the Emperor's. This is the ultimate nightmare of the Forbidden City. No, it would never happen this way, and I cannot believe Anchee Min proposes that it did.

Unfortunately, suspense is not Anchee Min's strength. While she does a wonderful job describing the boring, lonely life as one of a thousand wifes and concubines within the austere strictures of the Forbidden City, the story lacks suspense. The last third of the book, in particular, describing the coup that placed the Empress in power, reads like a Wikipedia article -- interesting and informative, but lacking the drama of a skillful storyteller.

Though I did learn a lot about Chinese history as the empire crumbled to the military might of the Western powers at the end of the nineteeth century, and the descriptions of as a wife of the Emperor were insightful, I still wished it was more of a novel and less of a history lesson.
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