A historical romance that takes place in Malaya in the end of the nineteenth century. This novel shows us the richness and complexity of the Asian culture through the eyes of seventeen year old, Li Lan.
This is one of those books that I have difficulty reviewing, because it was basically a carousel of ups and downs in the story line .
I can't begin to imagine the research work that this story must have entailed.
In fact, I don't remember any other book that reads as if a magical box of ancient treasures had been opened just for the readers pleasure, and cultural education!
Because that's what I mostly felt while reading it!
The story truly is encompassing, full of mythology and of facts that I had never heard about. It's stories like these that remind me of how little I know.
But do not think that this reads as some boring listless book about Malaysia. It doesn't. The author paints a very vivid and interesting portrait of nineteenth century Malaya, from social customs to... basically, all you can think about.
Allowing us to see this forgotten world, is young Li Lan's quest.
Li Lan's quiet life who will soon be shattered by a proposal made by the Lim family to her father:
They want her to marry their deceased son...
Li Lan and her Amah (nanny) are respectively shocked and appalled by this. I especially liked how the relationship between Lin's father and Amah was portrayed in the beginning of the story!
Amah is a character that does not sit passively in the background. She has raised Li Lan since she was four years old, after also having raised the girl's mother.
She is as fierce as any mother lioness, and she will do anything to help Li Lan survive.
Li Lan's father is portrayed as a weak man. He's fallen into dire straits. He let his business fall under, and is now an opium "consumer". He has a lot of debts to the Lim family, the reason that prompts the marriage proposal to Li Lan.
Li Lan and her family (father and Amah), along with some servants live in a now decrepit mansion. They don't have much, but up until now they have been able to survive.
Then Li Lan presence is requested at the Lim Mansion, and a whole new life is shown to her. If she agrees to the marriage proposal, her well being will be assured. But, once there she meets a boy, and gets immediately infatuated with him...
This is where things went downhill for me.
I understand that a sheltered girl could behave as such, but it was just too quickly done.
Very typical YA.
Then due to some circumstances that I will refrain from telling, Li Lan's life takes a 180º turn.
All of a sudden everything is happening at once, and the pace starts dragging. Everything takes its own sweet time...
At a time, there were so many things happening at once, that I had to go back and re-read a part of the story, because I simply couldn't remember why Li Lan was... where she was... you know? o_O
What happens next is a somewhat complex journey of Li Lan's spirit through the spirit world, and the Plains Of The Dead.
There, she will meet a long number of foes, but she will also meet a friend.
The meek girl who has had her expected sheltered life, now finds herself acting as a spy for a mysterious and fury inducing individual, who may or may not, in the end help her return to her path... aka, her body.
This "individual" was what saved the story and Li Lan's character for me!
Look, I started by loving the story! But after a awhile although I couldn't point anything wrong with the basic concept and the story per se, the execution of the same made it at times hard to follow.
A lot of descriptions, alongside inner monologue, plus the character behaving as a YA character, was just too much.
For me, the story would have been stronger if it had had about fifty, seventy pages off o_O
So, yes i confess, by the middle of the tale my enthusiasm had somewhat faded...
So, imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying it, once again! (after all the drama in the Lim's spiritual house... honestly that was just too much)
I loved that all of a sudden we had a dragon!! Would have liked it more, if I had had more pages about the dragon to read, instead of all the pages lost on crazy, boring characters!!
It was just too much!!! Made me think a little of Venezuelan soap operas :/
Almost everyone was insane or had a hidden agenda!!
BUT, the writing was great, and in the end the story was able to redeem itself.
So here it is, a four star rating. It's not a consistent four star rating... but at the same time, a three and half wouldn't be enough for this kind of story!!
As a final note, I just have to mention the cover of this book!
It's just beautiful!
Makes me wonder why I bough the English edition with the blue background... o_O
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