I anxiously awaited this new novel by one of the best current historical fiction authors, and while it did not disappoint me, it did not quite hit the 5* book that I had hoped.
When dealing with China, we are talking about a country that has such a long history that Rutherfurd needed to find a memorable period upon which to focus. Here we begin with the run-up to the two Opium Wars and get as far as the Boxer Rebellion, while in between there is the Taiping Rebellion. It is an eventful period and Rutherfurd does a really good job of detailing this historical era. The history is spot on, and I learned so much about these conflicts which I had heard of but never truly understood.
As with all of his books, China features multiple characters and follows them through these turbulent times. We have opium traders, British diplomats, Chinese pirates, dowagers, emperors, and eunuchs! Quite a diverse group to follow and on the whole, these characters do a wonderful job in both interacting together, as well as being part of these historic times.
Well written and superbly researched, this book does check off many of the boxes that I had expected, yet in many ways, it falls flat. Why would that be? Well, while I do not like to have books wrapped up in a nice neat package, I do like to finish characters’ storylines, and too many of these characters are just left hanging. We are only dealing with a 60-year timeline and there really is no reason not to finish off these stories. A few do get completed but there are many that are left dangling, and then halfway through the book he introduces a new major character whose story as a eunuch in the Emperor’s Court dominated the last half of the book and many of the original characters merely seem to disappear.
Call me picky, but I just felt a little bit disappointed after such a long wait since his book Paris. Very good, not great, and certainly not like Michener who reigns supreme in my ranking of historical fiction authors.