In this riveting tale about the secrets and betrayals that can accompany exorbitant wealth, two sisters from a Chinese-Indonesian family grapple with the past after one of them poisons their entire family.
Gwendolyn and Estella have always been as close as sisters can be. Growing up in a wealthy, eminent, and sometimes deceitful family, they’ve relied on each other for support and confidence. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor of Estella’s poisoning of their whole clan.
As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to this shocking and brutal act. Was it their aunt’s mysterious death at sea? Estella’s unhappy marriage to a dangerously brutish man? Or were the shifting loyalties and unspoken resentments at the heart of their opulent world too much to bear? Can Gwendolyn, at last, confront the carefully buried mysteries in their family’s past and the truth about who she and her sister really are?
Traveling from the luxurious world of the rich and powerful in Indonesia to the most spectacular shows at Paris Fashion Week, from the sunny coasts of California to the melting pot of Melbourne’s university scene, The Majesties is a haunting and deeply evocative novel about the dark secrets that can build a family empire—and also bring it crashing down.
This novel is described as a thriller in the lines of Crazy Rich Asians as if it had been written by Gillian Flynn. It was more of a family drama where the main character opens the story by waking up in the hospital, 300 hundred members of her family have been fatally poisoned, including children.
No Gillian Flynn book has reached this level of destruction, so no, it was not as described.
However, I needed to know why one of the characters felt the need to poison her family, so I dutifully read on, and as I did I found out about the characters' back stories, although it was touch and go in terms of development. The novel had a somber tone, moved slowly, and I was unable to relate to the characters' motivations, but it was an interesting, different type of read.
Overall, it was ok. I recommend it to those looking for something different and interesting to read.
Part of me thinks I’m being generous, but then I don’t know. Telling you what I think about this book will be very challenging. You will get a different answer every time. I haven't read Crazy Rich Asians, but from other reviews I've read - that characterization missed the mark. I would liken this much more to My Sister, the Serial Killer, minus the dry and dark humor that made that book really shine. I needed something else in this book.
The Majesties is a heavy read (with a really great opening), but I wasn't mentally prepared for the rest of it. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, but I've written in past reviews about being in the wrong headspace and how that hurts my ability to connect with a book. That definitely happened here. In fact, I almost DNF'd this after 50 pages, but I customarily like to wait until 100. I'm glad I kept reading because the writing is brilliant in places. Also, books about siblings (particularly sisters) interest me because I am an older sister. I think the sibling bond is very interesting to explore, particularly as siblings grow older. However, the writing was also confusing in other places. The pacing of the book didn't bother me, but the twist at the end came about so suddenly and was so jumbled (at least to me) that I'm still confused as to my reading comprehension of the matter and I read the end twice! There was a lot of work to be done for this book and sometimes I don't have the patience for that.
With all that being said, there were parts I liked and I also appreciated how this educated me on a place and people I am so far removed from. This is a book that helped me grow as a reader and I am grateful for that. I will watch this author in the future and I certainly hope I have a better experience with her next one.
Thank you to Netgalley, Atria Books and Tiffany Tsao for the opportunity to read and review this book honestly.
Synopsis Gwendolyn wakes - deeply injured and blinded - in a hospital bed. The sole survivor of a poisoning that has claimed the lives of her entire family. Her sister, closest confidant and best friend in the world, was responsible for killing their entire bloodline. Dying, paralyzed, and unable to speak, Gwendolyn sifts through her memories attempting to make sense of her sister's carnage.
Review The major point of contention most have with this novel is its "not really a thriller". It is marketed as a "thriller" but spends most of its time exploring the Gwendolyn's family dynamic which is full of deceit, secrets, and scandals. I recount this criticism with reminders that "thriller" is an extremely broad genre and is not only defined by knife-wielding murderers and blood-pounding scenes. Thrillers can be suspense stories. They can be quiet, measured, and slow placed. Sometimes, the secrets we keep in our own families - as the Majesties shows - are terrifying and thrilling in their own right. Many people went into this novel comparing it is to the typical domestic thriller like "Gone Girl", but what I love about this book is that its a psychological mystery. It's heavy in suspense and the "why" of the murder, and is not only about the "who".
I see other critiques for this book being compared to Crazy Rich Asians - which honestly was just poor marketing on the publisher's part. Yes, The Majesties explores lavish wealth and the complex relationship Gwendolyn's family has to their obscene wealth. I personally enjoyed the "rich people problems" component to the story and felt those problems were correctly situated as menial in comparison to the daily suffering of the middle and poorer classes. I also noticed many reviews failed to acknowledge that a large part of the book is about how wealth corrupts and that obscene wealth is deeply immoral and unjust.
As far as the ACTUAL review goes - i LOVED this book. Quite simply, i was drawn in from the start. My heart raced, I was invested in the family drama, the characters and their lifestyle, fascinated and disgusted by their lavishness and opulence, and excited to uncover the mystery. I have deeply mixed feelings about the plot twist; feelings I can't share because they are a spoiler. I will say, I loved the plot twist and the gorgeous writing overall. I'm giving this 4.5 stars because some of the writing was HEAVILY overdone. There was one line I simply couldn't get over, "her smile was like a vanishing moon". I adore lyrical prose to pieces, but at times it stretched into the realm of overwriting/pretentiousness.
I will officially read anything Tsao writes and I HEAVILY encourage you to read author reviews where she explains her book in depth to help you gain insight to the many complex themes in this novel, especially the ones that are centered on Chinese-indonesian culture.
I’m not positive how I feel about this story. There were very interesting parts but it was mostly wealthy,egotistical people looking down on the general public. As stated with lots of sub-par stories, there was a decent plot but poor execution.
Thanks to NetGalley and publishers for the advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
This is one of those crime novels where the mystery isn't who did it but why. I also suspect it's going to divide a lot of readers, since it has an unusual twisty ending that is more common in the quick-paced thriller set of crime novels than the slow literary character studies like this is.
The CRAZY RICH ASIANS comp is not good, though. This is not a funny book at all. It's deadly serious and it may be about rich Chinese-Indonesians, Indonesia is not Singapore, and tonally they have nothing in common. It's a lazy comparison and likely to mislead readers. This is a book about the ways rich families simultaneously destroy and protect themselves, about the depths of their corruption and the casualness of their cruelty. It does not have a lot of action on the page at all.
What it does have is a gimmick: a big splashy crime right at the outset and the "investigation" is a comatose woman sorting through her own memories. I'm not opposed to the gimmick or the ending, I think there's no reason we should save wild plot devices for more genre-y thrillers. What does irk me about it is that the resolution of the book doesn't actually resolve the story. It doesn't answer the big central question. (The big central why does get answered mostly, so don't worry about that. It's just more of a journey rather than a destination thing.) What it does is explain why the story has been told in this unusual way. All along I kept noting weird elements of the book, things that held me back from getting more invested in the stories of Estella and Gwendolyn, and those are the questions that ended up being answered. This is more of a central flaw, I never thought of those as questions to be answered, instead they felt like limitations of the book itself. It's unusual, that's for sure, and that's why it feels a little bit more like the rug has been pulled out from under you at the end.
But if you enjoy slower, more literary thrillers (tonally I'd say the closest I can think of is Megan Abbott) you may enjoy the contrast of high/low this book presents.
There has been a massacre. In the first sentence of the first chapter, the narrator, Gwendolyn, reveals that her sister Estella murdered three hundred people. They’re members of her family, extended family and friends, poisoned for no discernible reason. This is where the story starts, but also where it ends.
It would be wrong to classify this as a thriller or suspense in the traditional sense. If you’re looking for heightened happenings similar to the initial bombshell to be peppered throughout the rest of the novel, you may be disappointed. The majority of the book, basically every chapter between the first one and the last couple, is more an examination of one family’s discord spanning several years and generations. There’s so many layers present, from the inherited wealth, to racial frictions, to domestic abuse and even geopolitical ramifications. The description of this book compares itself to Crazy Rich Asians; this is true only in the most superficial way. The characters are crazy rich, from a wealthy Chinese-Indonesian family. There’s complicated familial dynamics and pressure to live up to the standards that have been cultivated decade to decade, grandparent to parent to child.
Where the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy was criticized for not much acknowledging the realities of the majority population living outside of their enormous wealth, The Majesties brings a refreshing, sometimes dark level of self-awareness to the class struggles in Southeastern Asia, specifically Indonesia and the capital city of Jakarta. Though the story detours to parts of southern California & elsewhere, it’s focal point continues to be the family rooted in Jakarta.
The unraveling of Gwendolyn and her sister’s family is crucial to understanding why Estella did what she did. The entire plot centers around that question: Why? What could have possibly possessed her to kill everyone in that room? It’s not a mystery in the way we’re accustomed to; the answers to the questions we’d normal be asking, ‘Who?’ ‘What?’ ‘How?’, are already known. There’s several big revelations at the end, twists and turns and bleak truths that leave the reader shell shocked. As the first 2020 release I’ve delved into, this was quite a memorable and haunting way to start.
*Thanks to Atria Books & Netgalley for an advance copy!
This was a mostly blind read. All I knew were a few vague things like the cover being gorgeous and intriguing. Also, that it’s Asian-American fiction, probably literary, and centers around a family. It’s nice sometimes to go in with little info and get caught off guard.
I’ll just get this out of the way first and foremost- for me The Majesties clicked in a way that was effective and distinctive. Even just the first chapter pretty much blew me away. This book tries to do a lot. The first noticeable element is the poetic writing style. At best, there is plentiful and pretty, dreamy prose with vivid descriptions. At worst, the descriptions get overwrought or subtle looks into the family dynamics can come off as too vague to be relevant. This family (and its extended members) can be a tiresome lot. That said, I sense the author wrote every moment with intent- as a series of hints that would unravel the aims of the ending if you knew everything that was going to happen.
There are moments when the main character (in a very conversational style) digs into possible character motivations. These moments can be thought-provoking and psychologically interesting.
There is also exploration of political, racial, and social issues faced by (and in certain ways, practiced by) the Chinese-Indonesian characters. Some of what could be considered sub-stories in the narrative were touching and bend the genres that are explored here into an unusual and surprisingly harmonious assortment.
But foremost, this is a thriller/murder mystery of the domestic variety. In December I read two domestic thrillers and guessed the endings of both. After that misfortune, I made a sort of half-hearted promise to myself to not read anymore thrillers for a while. That was a short-lived promise since The Majesties is a thriller, but thankfully every occurrence was not perfectly guessable- not by a long shot. I think that because the narrative is exploring so many other things that interested me, those subjects served as distractions to what are actually several hints about the twists and turns. Without revealing too much, I’ll just say the revelations were satisfying and I felt like the ending was meaningful.
In closing, here are some things that I think readers should know about before diving in.
The characters are not likable. Even the ones that are almost supposed to be aren’t really so. Certainly not in traditional ways. Am venturing a guess that this can automatically make this an unpalatable read for many.
But weirdly, I felt for the sisters (even the villainous one) at the heart of this story and had a sort of compassion for the difficulties they faced. This mournful feeling somehow made this book extra dark and disturbing, as from page one it’s quite unrestrained with unflinching and self-aware criticisms of the characters, the world they’re in, their upbringing, and the eventual tragedy that consumed them all. Not unlike Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, anticipating the bad things that are going to happen didn’t make the journey there less impactful to read about.
Why You Should Try It – An absolutely loaded story. Between the psychological horror, family secrets, racial and political exploration, domestic drama, at times poetic metaphors, there is just… a lot of stuff going on. The thriller aspect managed to work its magic effectively for me. AKA I didn’t guess everything that happened, yay. If you’re looking for dark and self-aware fiction this is surprising and effective.
Why You Might Not Like It – Pointedly unlikable characters everywhere. Some sections seem like they’re attempting something deep but slow down the pace or just didn’t hit a worthwhile mark. Though I found the atmosphere thick with personality and uniqueness, it is very sour. Your mileage may vary on the guessability of this book. Some descriptions and ads I’ve seen reveal a lot by comparing this book to similar works.
The Majesties , a story about family wealth and the betrayals , disappointments and heartbreak that comes with it , is deceitfully engaging only to lose the intrigue and depth the moment we stumble on that tragic plot twist. Way to ruin a good story just so you can make it edgier and crazier.
The book is about Gwendolyn and Estella, two sisters from a Chinese-Indonisian wealthy family and how their relationship evolved with time. There is also a mystery in this book about what could possibly push one of these sisters to poison her entire family from close relatives to distant ones: the elderly, the young and the children all poisoned , all dead.
The whole time I was reading the majesties, I was asking the question, what could possibly have happened to push that character over the edge and drive to do this hideous act. I was bracing myself for some crazy shit to go down that will break her heart and soul and turn her into someone okay with murdering hundreds. But I find myself pretty disappointed with the character journey and reasoning in this book. The mystery of why does such a thing is poorly developed and the build up to that final underwhelming predictable reveal is wasted on a plot twist that’s equally maddening and lazy.
It’s really a shame you know because the characters are written very well especially the two sisters. The family relatives exist in this book to shine a light on how the two sisters were different all along and how that difference created alienation emotionally and physically. The sisters are so close yet so far away. You see them go through those difficult things together and yet something is always holding them back. The love was there but also a little bit of resentment and so many regrets. That intriguing dynamic was written in the most compelling way and it drove the majority of the story.
The dysfunctional relationships in their family drove home their need to escape, to distance themselves, to found a way to break apart from all of that. It was heartbreaking seeing them drawn time and time again into the vortex of their family drama and toxic mentality.
And suddenly all that great character work, that complex and brilliant dynamic, the push and pull between two sisters living different lives , escaping different scars , some of them inflected by each other is simply ruined because mystery need to have a plot twist and God Forbid we come up with something that wasn’t done to death in the genre. I mean why?
The Majesties an interesting story about family and wealth and how some relationships trap us to the point of unraveling the façade of perfection to reveal the hideous cracks and the ugly truth behind. And yet, that final reveal takes a lot from this book and doesn’t give anything in return. It’s actually heartbreaking. The book wanted to be a lot of things all at once and it fails miserably at that which pissed me off. Sometimes it’s better to pick something and stick with it than cramming a lot of things together that cancel each other out and leave the story an empty shell of wasted potential.
Engaging until it’s exhausting, Thrilling until it’s a cliché and intriguing until there is no intrigue left. Damn it, this disappointment hurt.
What a BOLD beginning! The novel starts with Gwendolyn - our narrator - in the hospital. She’s the sole survivor of a mass murder.
The scene: her Opa’s birthday party The guests/victims: her wealthy family and their friends and colleagues, some of the wealthiest Chinese families in Indonesia The culprit: Gwendolyns sister, Estella
Gwendolyn is in a coma and narrates the story from that state. She recalls moments from their privileged lives that may have led Estella to murder their family. The novel is a deep psychological dive into privilege, family, and secrets.
This novel wasn’t quite what I expected. It started with a bang and ended with a bang, but most of the rest of the novel was fairly slow paced and more a character study than anything else. It was definitely unique but if you’re searching for a “crazy rich Asians”-esque novel, this isn’t it.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
first read sept 2018, under your wings proof copy: i honest-to-god did not put this down at all: it grabs you from the very first pages and does not let you go until the VERY last. perceptive, chilling, and exquisitely crafted and paced — the kind of book you want to reread immediately after you finish.
This book is being marketed as a thriller. But IMO it is not really a thriller.
The narrator is Gwendolyn (1st person POV). Her family is Chinese and lives in Indonesia. The book starts with her being sort of unconscious/in a coma. We find out that her sister Estella has poisoned a group of people.
The cover is so unique and the story sounded so intriguing. I like reading about different cultures. So I was excited to read this book.
But the entire story is told from Gwendolyn's POV of her thinking back to various events. This did not work for me. I kept waiting to get to the point where we found out why her sister poisoned people. And I guess we find out at the end. However I found the ending to be very confusing.
The narrator was interesting. Her job was very interesting. The location was interesting. However the whole book was just a comatose woman giving us the backstory of her life.
Thanks to netgalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for allowing me to read this book.
Great beginning ('when your sister murders three hundred people, you can't help but wonder why') and a good ending that has a kind of twisted logic to it - but I found the pacing of this not quite right.
There's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g central part where all kinds of wheels are turning but the story doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. Various trips merge into each other and a whole courtship/difficult marriage seems to take up far more page space than is warranted (though the end deals with this in part). After not much happening, there's a sudden flurry of events and revelations towards the end but they start, to be honest, to become so melodramatic that they're almost cartoonish.
There are some lovely images along the way - the bagatelles lifting into flight on the catwalk, for example - but Tsao seems to be reaching for symbolism of cocooning and metamorphosis that doesn't quite work in the story as it stands. Great ideas, lots of potential but the story on the page doesn't seem to come to fruition in the way that might have been intended. Fabulous cover, though!
Thanks to Pushkin Vertigo for an ARC via NetGalley
“When your sister murders three hundred people, you can’t help but wonder why- especially if you were one of the intended victims- though I do forgive her, if you can believe it.” ⠀⠀ I guess I should have stopped staring at the stunning (STUNNING!) cover of Tiffany Tsao’s #TheMajesties and started reading the actual book sooner, because if that opening sentence doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will! I cracked this book open last night and was up late into the night trying to finish. If you’re like me (a sucker for a good multigenerational family drama), then you’re going to enjoy this book. In addition to the complicated family story, there’s the bizarre murder mystery, insect fashion line, and opulent world-building that really elevates this book into something different and unique. And that whiplash twist of an ending! Whoa. This book checks all of the boxes and is the perfect book to kick off a brand new year.
Whew! What a fantastic read this is! I loved reading about multi-generational family drama that explores what happens in wealthy and prominent Chinese families that look perfect on the outside but rotten in its core. Tiffany Tsao is a brilliant writer that was able to explore and challenge the complexities of family relationships in the realm of the Indonesian cultural norms and societal prejudices. A shocking beginning and an even shocking ending. I devoured this in one sitting and still mesmerized by the dark and brooding tale of this sinister book. I LOVED it!
The only survivor of her sister's mass poisoning of their entire extended family, Gwendolyn lies in a coma and tries to figure out what led Estella to murder 300 people. The tangled history of the Sulinado family includes corrupt business practices, spousal abuse, startling religious conversions, multiple casual murders, and jewelry made out of living bugs. This is no thriller or murder mystery but there is a bit of suspense related to what terrible thing the family will do next in their pursuit of power, and exactly why the sister's beloved aunt faked her own death to escape. This works fine as a Crazy Rich Asians but extremely dark, but here comes some carping about the ending.
Thank you, Netgalley and Atria for sending me a digital ARC, in exchange for an honest review.
Before I begin, let's take a moment to marvel at that beautiful, eye-catching cover. Ahh. What a sight!
I wish I could say "The Majesties" was just as beautiful and riveting as the outside but unfortunately, this book was a disjointed mess. I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to a certain writing style. I found the descriptive imagery and dialogue to be forced, awkward, and mundane. Almost every sentence was clunky. If you don't have picky standards as I do, then you should be fine with the writing and tone. A lot of the story is told in flashbacks which made the pacing extremely draggy.
Second, I couldn't stand the main character, Gwendolyn, or anyone of the secondary characters for that matter. Usually unlikable characters don't bother me, but I was so baffled and annoyed by the horrible things they do to each other, that I didn't care what happened to any of them. They were awful.
So I can't really give away too much of the plot but that "twist" ending was INSANELY PREDICTABLE. To me, there's nothing worse when you got the twist figured out less than halfway through. I kept hoping I was wrong, but ugh, not the case. I don't think an ending has aggravated me this intensely in a long time. A major disappointment.
I found this to be an incredibly dull, pedestrian read which didn't work for me on any level. Don't believe the comparisons to Crazy Rich Asians - while the family are Asian (Indonesian) and are crazy (no spoilers) and kind of rich the plots of the books couldn't be more different. This is being billed a thriller but I didn't even understand the twist when I got it - and didn't care enough to go back and work it out.
Honestly not sure why I finished this, and I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to either.
Thank you Netgalley and Pushkin Press for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Besides the detailed descriptions of the life of MULTIPLE side characters too many for my enjoyment or interest and the WTH is going on rushed ending, The main problem of this book is the false advertisement.
Gone girl ? Really ? I only saw the movie, but I'm sure the book wasn't like this.
Anyway, I liked the writing overall.
It is a decent family drama with a weird ending, that got me debating whether I liked it or not.
Well that was intriguing, not riveting but in some way intriguing. I would give this book a 3.5 and have rounded it up to 4 because of the fabulous cover!!
For our February book club we were to select a book based on its cover, without reading any summaries or reviews or even the title if you could manage to do that. I selected this book because I liked the bright yellow cover with the somewhat abstract image, and a butterfly. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, no idea what the storyline would reveal. Turns out that maybe that was a good thing. Well, because I left the country for warmer climates, like many snowbirds, and because I was on a road trip with my husband, when covid hit and we needed to return before borders were closed, then we isolated, planned and planted a garden, made 80 or so masks for family, I did not read this book until this last week. But I digress....
I found this book to be intriguing. It grabbed me right from the beginning based on the story line of the last remaining member of an Indonesian-Chinese family recounted her past and how it was she ended up in the hospital on life support. You gotta admit, it was off to a running start with much promise.
The story was really more about the dysfunctional and wealthy family to which Gwendolyn, known to her sister as Doll, belonged, and the various relationships between Doll and her sister Estella, her parents, her grandparents. It was as much about the culture, the life of privilege, and the family history as it was about the how and why everyone but Doll was dead. So, it wasn’t really very riveting or a thriller the way you would expect a mystery to be, but that didn’t make it any less a good read.
The author did a very nice job of developing the character of the two sisters, and even to some extent some of the lesser characters and family members. Again, while not particularly fast paced, it moved at just the speed I needed while sitting outside in the sun, listening to the birds chirp and the lake drift by. The cultural aspect was well developed and certainly weighed heavily in the plot, as did the life of privilege, by which the sisters were able to study abroad, visit fashion centers to acquire their latest wardrobes, all while staying within the family’s rules and requirements. Learning and keeping the family secrets required decisions that were contrary to their heart, but were dictated as necessary. I maintain that it was all intriguing.
I enjoyed the story and the writing and would read another book by this author.
* 3.5 stars | THE MAJESTIES opens with Gwendolyn, a woman from a wealthy Chinese-Indonesian family, waking up as the sole survivor of her sister’s attempt to poison everyone at her grandfather’s extravagant 80th birthday celebration. In her coma-like state, Gwendolyn searches her memory for the reason why her sister would commit such an act, and recalls her family’s dark secrets she uncovered before their demise.
So as you can probably tell from the premise, this book starts off with a bang! The opening was so strong and compelling that I read the first 75 pages in one sitting. But then the book moves into the second act where it slows down significantly, and then arrives at the end which (in my opinion) is a mess. I really wanted to love this one, especially since the cover is absolutely STUNNING, but unfortunately this one didn’t knock it out of the park for me.
It’s not all bad though. I really enjoyed the sister dynamic between Gwendolyn and Estella. They are close, but Estella is also sort of an enigma which adds to the mystery of the book. This book also tackles issues involving extreme wealth, class, and privilege (even though I thought the extravagance of their wealth was a little much in many parts of the book - like Crazy Rich Asians level).
Some of my not so favorite parts included the family (who are morally bankrupt), and Estella’s insane husband (trigger warnings for rape and abuse) who we spend way too much time with. And a large focus of the book is on their rich people problems, which I didn’t really care about. I’m fine with that being a theme, but when there are multiple chapters on the subject, I lose interest. I wanted more sister dynamic, and less about the horrible side characters. I also think this story still would’ve been compelling without all the excessive wealth. Lastly, the ending is all over the place. And I’m usually pretty lenient about ending. For me, things don’t have to be tied up in a bow, but they at least have to make sense. After I read this, I literally had 7 questions about the ending because it didn’t make sense to me. I think the author was going for a mind blowing ending ... but it’s just ... not.
Overall, excellent opening / okay middle / bad end / stellar cover. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 3.5/5.
[ The publisher, Atria Books, sent me a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. ]
Under Your Wings got its claws into me early with its clever and captivating structure, the lush prose (damn good writing here) and its deep dive into complex family dynamics. Who knew I needed a book about bringing down toxic family empires! If you want a read that will grab hold of you from page 1 and not let go, then this is it. And what the hell was that ending!?!?
A jaw-dropping, moving family drama with a first page that will arrest your attention like nothing else you'll read all year. This is the book you pick up for the cover and don't put down until the very last page.
The story is so cliche, there is nothing new here. The twist at the end is kinda lame. The author tried to incorporate some Indonesian events/histories into a mystery book. However, everything just fall apart.
Indonesian literature is rare to find, especially the few that are translated into English. Will continue to hunt for the next Indo lit.
The cover of Tiffany Tsao’s novel The Majesties is an abstract painting of a head with a monarch butterfly and this stunning yellow cover is enough to draw a reader in and to want to learn more about what this story is about. The Majesties begins with Gwendolyn (Doll) Sulinado in a coma, on life support, recounting the murderous actions of her sister Estella on the evening of their Opa’s eightieth birthday celebration. The reader immediately finds out that Estella has taken her own life and the lives of 300 others with Doll being the sole survivor. What seems like a fast paced thriller in the beginning turns into a story about family dysfunction, secrets, and that even those closest to us, and most treasured by us, are not always as they seem.
The Sulinado family is a large, rich, and powerful Chinese-Indonesian family living in Indonesia in the mid 1990’s. The beginning of The Majesties can seem a little overwhelming to the reader as there are a lot of characters that are introduced in a short period of time. Thankfully, as the story progresses the focus zeros in on Doll and Estella as the main characters with Doll trying to figure out how and why her sister could murder 300 people so callously. The novel is told from Doll’s perspective and even though she is the one telling the story and she does discuss things about herself, the emphasis is more on Estella’s life and the relationship that the two of them share. Doll talks about different events throughout hers and Estella’s lives that she believes impacted her sister enough to commit mass murder and suicide.
Family dynamics and dysfunction are huge themes in Tsao’s novel. The reader will find that as Doll describes different things that happen throughout hers and Estella’s life that the plot can sometimes feel like a coming-of-age story. The sister’s learn a lot about who they are through their family and as the story progresses, Doll and Estella have to come to terms with the seedy parts of their family’s history, both individually and collectively.
Throughout the novel, the reader will learn about the love of entomology (the study of insects) that both Doll and Estella share as it becomes a huge theme through the entire plot. Tsao takes such an interesting and unique topic and does a wonderful job at introducing, describing, and explaining what entomology is throughout as it is likely a topic most readers are not overly knowledgeable in. Tsao weaves this theme into the plot seamlessly with other themes and characters, and makes sure that it is a focal point to the novel.
Tsao has absolutely brilliant prose all throughout The Majesties and in the end, the reader is bound to see connections that they may not have noticed right away. While the beginning of the novel may seem misleading and a little daunting with all of the characters right off the bat, it finds its footing and Tsao tells a wonderful story about what we can and cannot see, and how those things shape us into who we are. The Majesties truly isn’t all that it seems, and maybe that is how Tsao meant for the story to be all along. Instead of a suspenseful thriller throughout the entire plot, the reader is gifted with learning about the Sulinado family and their secrets to remind the reader that those around us are never as they seem.
Tsao comes full circle with the plot and creates a thrilling and suspenseful end that is bound to leave the reader satisfied. While the novel was not entirely what I was expecting it to be, I was pleasantly surprised with where the story went. Tsao has created a stunningly smart story about a messy family full of dysfunction, deceit, and drama while tying in pieces of plot that feel similar to a coming-of-age story. What drew me to The Majesties in the first place was its stunning cover and while many people say not to judge a book by its cover, this one connects the entire story together so poetically. Pick up a copy of Tsao’s absolutely brilliant novel to learn for yourself how her entire novel is a metaphor for the life cycle of the butterfly and the emergence of that butterfly in the end.
The Majesties is marketed as “if Gillian Flynn wrote Crazy Rich Asians”. The Majesties is not that. Not even close. It does give off Crazy Rich Asians vibes, but doesn’t touch Flynn with a ten-foot pole.
The Majesties is an interesting concept, but it’s poor executive leaves much to be desired. The slow pacing, almost non-existent plot, and unlikeable characters makes The Majesties a boring read that is a slog to get through.
The Majesties is bogged down in its over reliance on exposition. There are too many instances where the narrator tells readers pages upon pages of historical information, as the novel is set in the 1990s in Indonesia, or gives a detailed breakdown of the other characters in the family, as there are many. These pages are particularly boring since it feels like time spent that could have been better served elsewhere.
Unlikeable characters are not necessarily cause for criticism. Unfortunately, when the novel has nothing else going for it the inability to connect with the characters makes the novel even harder to enjoy. The Majesties does not have a single likable character.
The big twist at the end is predictable. I guessed at it around the 40 pages mark. The ending also contributed to my dislike of the novel since these kinds of twists are not creative, intriguing, or jaw dropping. They’re irresponsible and lazy.
Overall, there's an interesting story buried deep in this novel, unfortunately, the poor execution does a disservice to the concept.
***I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review.
A thriller?? Nah. A family drama is more like it. I really liked the writing of this overall - I'm interested in reading something else by this author. I think this story has a very dark and accurate representation of domestic violence. But my residual feelings for this is pretty disappointing. Like, it's not a bad book, but because of it's advertisement, I was expecting something VERY different. Like, seriously, this book was calling itself the CRAZY RICH ASIAN version of GONE GIRL and that is not it. It's not a thriller, it's not a mystery. The family drama was definitely drama. It had a weird ending that is still having me go back and forth on whether or not I like it but in the end, I'm just kind of disappointed.