Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Opium Lord's Daughter

I received this novel written by Robert Wang, as an ARC through Hidden Gems.   I found it a fascinating read about a period in time I was completely unaware of prior to reading this novel.   The author's notes made it clear his is a student of this era of Chinese/British history and based his novel on factual information.

The story begins in Canton with us meeting Su Mei,  Shao Lin's 6 year old daughter on the day he is attempting to have her feet bound.  The novel then explains the process and the justification for it in the eyes of the noble in 19th Century China.  The story behind this cruel tradition was the tiny dancer's feet of a favorite concubine of the Emperor in the 1400s.   Suddenly father's of daughters sought to have their feet be tiny so they were desirable wives.  There were gold and silver standards, the smaller the better, regardless of whether the woman was able to walk.

Su Mei was stubborn and managed to remove the restraints with the assistance of the lady's maid sent by Concubine #1.  After repeated attempts to bind her feet failed, her father finally gave up.  Mainly because he was now absorbed with the arrival of Number One son, Da Ping.  Da Ping and Su Mei are very close and basically play alone, ignoring the other children of the household and the noble children whom they interact.  Their carefree happiness comes to a halt when Da Ping turns 13 and his studies begin in order to groom him for his noble birthright.  Even still, Su Mei pledges her loyalty and love to him.

Su Mei is brought to Macau with her father on a business trip, and placed in a convent to try and set her straight in her stubborn ways which have continued into young adulthood- refusal to marry the selected groom.  This turns out to be a fortuitous and life changing experience for Su Mei.

Shao Lin, while being a guan in Canton has been building his family's wealth by hiding his opium trade behind the business of tea and silk.  His father, a high standing official close with the Emperor has no idea of the truth behind his business success.   Once the emperor decides to rid his country of the opium that is destroying it's people, Sue Mei's family gets caught up in this. As the world around her collapses she comes to depend on her new friends in a way she could never have expected.  Her brother, Da Ping is also awoken to the realities of his new existence.   The experience is life changing for them all.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was quite interesting to learn about some of the cultural traditions of 19th century China and the relationship with the British.  I have not traveled to mainland China but have been to Hong Kong and this book adds a bit of an explanation and background for that city and its history between Britain and China. 

The Opium Lord's DaughterThe Opium Lord's Daughter by Robert  Wang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Opium Lord's Daughter by Robert Wang is a fabulous read with lots of drama and suspense wrapped in a historical novel. This is a fascinating historical novel set during the 1st Opium War between China and Britain in late 1830s/ early 1840s. This is a time I was completely unfamiliar with prior to reading this book. The author's note at the beginning was very helpful in filling in the facts behind the story. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review of the novel.

The story is based on the trade of opium by the British into China. Basically, the British wanted the Chinese silk and tea but the Chinese didn't want anything from the British. The British began providing opium the Chinese paid for in silver which was then used to buy the tea and silk to take back to Britain. The Chinese people became addicted to the opium and the Emperor decided to put an end to the illegal trade. This story is set around that event in history and is filled with many details pertaining to the cultural history of China including foot binding, daughter's obedience/secondary existence and the possession of Hong Kong by Britain.

The main character, Su Mei, and her brother, Da Ping, are raised as privileged members of the noble class in Canton. The idyllic life changes suddenly when their father's involvement in the opium trade is made known. The siblings lives are changed forever over the course of a short period of time.

The only drawback to the novel and the reason I didn't give it a 5 star review is the timeline is a bit difficult to follow at times. I found myself repeatedly flipping to different chapters to see when the action was taking place. The author does a good job of blending a flashback with the story in the "present" time setting but it could be hard to know when the action was taking place. Additionally, there were a few times when the book was switching between characters/scenes within a chapter and it was hard to follow. It took a sentence or two to realize the transition was taking place. It wasn't a major issue, but it did force a reread of portions to get my bearing and hence slowed the pace a bit.

I really enjoyed this book. What's not to like, the book is filled with naval battles, illegal drug trade and unlikely allies. It was quite interesting to learn about some of the cultural traditions of 19th century China and the relationship with the British. If you have any interest in learning about history of other cultures or are interested in a historical novel not based around WWII, I can highly recommend this book.

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Challenge Prompts

The Challenge Prompts I will use this for are:
  1. Literary Escapes-  China
  2. Popsugar- #popsugarreadingchallenge #33 set in a country beginning with "C"
  3. Around the Year in 52 Books- #27  A history or historical fiction
  4. 52 Books in 52 weeks  # 45 A book that cost you less than $5
  5. Book List Queen #15 Set in Asia
  6. NJM #NJMBookChallenge2020  #3 a self published book
  7. Historic Fiction  #2020HFReadingChallenge (Book #2)