Dear Ms. Lee,
I remember when “White Tigress” was released and all the hoopla about it being set in historical China and the tantric-esque sex. I bought it but actually started reading the series with the second book “Hungry Tigress” and followed with “Desperate Tigress.” It was at that point that I readily admit to getting tired of all the tigress sex stuff. I can only read but so much about stroking jade dragons and rubbing breasts 79 circles in one direction then 79 circles back before the cinnabar cave comes into action. I adored the historic facts about China and the glimpses you gave of it and its people but then it’d be back to the same old sex again. Ho hum. For this reason, I skipped the next two books and really had no intention of trying this latest one. Then I read the AAR review and perked up. It’s….it’s….something different! I quickly emailed Jane to see if we’d gotten an ARC for it. No, she said, suck it up and head to a bookstore. Which I did. But I did have a coupon (thank you Waldenbooks).
Anna Thompson was orphaned in Shanghai at an early age. Her mother died in childbirth and, years later, she was told her sailor father died of yellow fever. Growing up in the orphanage run by nuns was no fun until the magical day her father’s friend found her. Anna was jubilant. She had a father again. Someone loved her. Everything would be all right. Only 10 years later, it wasn’t and when Anna was honest with herself it never had been. Now her only thought is to get back to Shanghai from the heart of China, board a ship and sail away forever. Only one man stands in her way and it’s her misfortune to be caught by him when freedom is only days away.
Tau Zhi-Gang is known as the Emperor’s Enforcer. His job is simple yet difficult almost beyond belief: to rid China of the deadly scourge of opium which is ruining it. When his guards bring the barbarian ghost woman to him, he realizes with shock and horror that somehow she will change his life. And when she curses him as his guard is about to obey Zhi-Gang’s order for her to be killed, he knows that she is a survivor and strong beyond most people much less most women. Finally paying head to the council of his friend not to kill this foreign devil woman in public and thus bring down on them the attention of the Empress Dowager, Zhi-Gang has Anna brought to his sampan where they eventually end up striking a bargain. Anna will get her freedom in exchange for helping to lead them to her boss, one of the biggest drug suppliers in Shanghai. And when he reaches Shanghai, Zhi-Gang might finally be able to free himself of a crushing burden which has haunted him for twenty years. As the journey continues Zhi-Gang finds he’s not the only one haunted by what he’s done and seen done to others. Anna runs drugs but she’s also a user seeking blessed oblivion from her memories of what the trade has done to her and for her freedom might just as well be death as escape from China.
One thing that intrigued me about this book is the fact that you don’t shy away from the horrors of what opium has done to Anna and untold numbers of Chinese girls sold or stolen to pay for it. If I had Anna’s nightmares and no access to modern counseling, I might be tempted to numb reality as well. At first, I wasn’t quite sure of the way you depicted Anna off drugs but after doing some googling, I can see that she might not show all the classic opiate withdrawal symptoms. I like how you set up Anna’s past and show why she was so willing to enter into such an unsavory business. It makes sense and allowed me as well as Zhi-Gang to sympathize with her instead of condemning her out of hand. The journal entries which end each chapter and which chronicle Anna’s life are heartbreaking. The fact that she’d never really had anyone give a damn about her also makes her hesitance to believe in love, or to be willing to admit it once she did, believable.
Zhi-Gang has his reasons for what he does as well. After losing his first love to opium, it’s easy to see why he despises anyone with anything to do with it. His concern for and determination to save the young Chinese girls caught up in the trade was something that wasn’t explained until almost the end of the book. But when the reason was revealed, it was a doozy. I assume that an earlier book details the change of heart of his victim as the resolution seemed awfully easy in this one. It was easy to see why Anna falls for him but not so easy to see why he falls for her. There was too much “he didn’t know why he was attracted to her but he was” type of explanation which in the end lowers the grade of this book. I was afraid towards the end that I might end up stuck with some tigress sex after all but I enjoyed the way you gently poked a little fun at it all.
I like the fact that this book also shows more of everyday China at the time and I also think you did a great job of quickly sketching some pretty complex political history without bringing the action to a complete halt by loading us down with too much detail. After reading the bathing scene I came up with a great subtitle for the book, “Bouncing Tigress!” I read somewhere that this is the last “Tigress” book you plan and if that is so, I think you’ve ended the series with a winner. B