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55
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Last Empress
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2007
This is the follow up story of Empress Orchid and picks up the story as Orchid begins to gain power. It follows her through coaching two new Emperors of China up to the point of her death. At times this book read slightly like a history book, with information dumped on the reader but once you get past that it is a wonderful book that gives the reader and interesting look into life within The Forbidden City. It is one of only a few accounts that is sympathetic with Orchid and throughout the book I genuinely felt for the character. While not as good as Empress Orchid and some events seemed twisted so as to make the Empress seem kind and gentle it was still a great book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2008
It's been a few years since I first read Anchee Min's first book on the life of China's Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi which blew me away.
I wasn't even aware that Anchee Min was even working on a second and final instalment of Tz'u-Hsi's life until i was browsing the isles of WHSmiths and came across "The last empress".

I quickly ordered the book from Amazon (much cheeper) and waited impatiently for its arrival.

As soon as "The last empress" arrived I dives straight in and was not dissapointed!

Anchee Min has created another masterpiece which is a must for anybody interested in Tz'u-Hsi, the Manchu dynasty, China or a great story made all the more amazing because it's a true story.

"The last empress" encompasses the later stages of Tz'u-Hsi's life and what are esentially the last years of the Ch'ing (Manchu) dynasty's rule in China.

In the west, the east and even in China itself Tz'u-Hsi has been demonised as "the dragon lady" an evil despot desperate to keep power and China in her hands.

It's wonderfull that Anchee Min has dared to think outside the box and portray Tz'u-Hsi as what she really was, the daughter of an impoverished and disgraced provincial governer who entered the forbidden city as a concubine and left in death as Empress Dowager.

All through the book we see how Tz'u-Hsi fought to save China from the "civilised" west and Japan who systematicaly "raped" China and forced unfair and embarassing treaty after treaty first on Tz'u-Hsi's husband, then her son and finally her nephew (and addopted son).

It disgusted me how the west and Japan took advantage ofChina which didn't want to fight and when it came to the point that they had to were no match for the Iron ships and guns of the west and Japan.

Overall I give this book five stars because I can't give it six.
This book is a masterpiece and along with "Empress Orchid" will hopefully dispell peoples perceptions of Tz'u-Hsi as the evil and tyranical woman who brought the Chinese empire to its knees with her greed and lust for power.

The truth is that the western nations and the newly "modernised" Japanese brought China to its knees and it was only Tz'u-Hsi's strength of character and determination that kept the empire from falling sooner.

In my view Anchee Min has created a lasting and fitting legacy that will in time help to exhonerate the name of possibly the greatest woman China has ever produced, The Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating subject but clunkily written and ponderously repetitive. Nothing flows - the dialogue is glitchy and unreal and the narrative constantly repeats the same thoughts. Perhaps the Empress was incapable of original thought but her life was actually a lot more interesting than found here. I THINK the reader is supposed to empathise with the subject but there is neither sufficient character nor depth of background to make this Empress real. She just plods on, thinking the same old things, doing the same old things, little benefitting China. In the end, you don't care but worth looking up the Empress in the Britannica.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The last empress is the single best book to read this year! it carries on The tale of Empress Orchid from the book of the same name, and takes u deeper into the sad history of the Manchu Dynasty and as it crumbles. The politics of The Chinese Empire is discussed alot more in the second book, but it doesnt fail to explore the live of the Empress and the Emperor. Orchid, torn between the good of the Country and the good of her Son makes you believe that she should be the Mother of China. Beautifully written and set in the magnificant Forbidden city amongst the Eunechs and Ladies in waiting the story unfolds as to how women were both the saviors and the fall of the Empire.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2008
I read her previous book empress orchid and was moved by it , she makes you feel like you are there... so when I saw this one i couldn't resist and I haven't been able to put it down I am sad its ended... Really great books recommended to everyone
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2012
I find Chinese history fascinating and realise that I have quite an interest. I fell in love with Jung Chang's Wild Swans when I read the book a few years ago. The Last Empress has reinforced my interest and appetite to read more. Typically, I found this book and picked it up to read to find that it follows on from Empress Orchid which I have not read yet. I was lucky enough to come across the first instalment in a charity shop this week. My reviews of this series will not be in order.
I found the history very interesting, learning about the Forbidden City and its protocols. Of course, from watching films such as The Last Emperor, we know that the very young are given this very high profile position and someone has to guide or 'pull the strings'. In this case Empress Orchid, who has a very difficult role following the death of her husband Emperor Hsien Feng in guiding their son Tung Chih on the throne. She has competition from her late husband's senior wife Nuharoo as an advisor and the relationship is fraught with difficulty. This Empress guides in the way she knows best, but it is not easy seeing her son being lead down the road to ruin by his cousin, her husband's brother Prince Kung's son. Another Emperor is named, again from an early age, this time the son of Orchid's sick sister Rong. Although Emperor Guang-hsu is more willing to take on his role he is still troubled by his responsibility and decision making. The Empress has to guide as best she can taking into account her enemies and her long-trusted friends and advisors. A very good and interesting read combining fact with fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2008
In 'Empress Orchid', Orchid herself was a young woman - naive, impressionable, and with good intentions. Min portrayed her protagonist's desperation very well, and in that novel Orchid's methods of surviving in the Forbidden City were justified - she was dealing with a hostile court, a weak husband, and a spoiled son.

But in 'The Last Empress', things go a little downhill. While Orchid was a layered and difficult character in the first book, she came across as being genuinely good at heart - in this novel, however, she is incredibly difficult to empathise with.

The main problem is the children. Orchid raises several young boys as heir to the Dragon Throne during this novel, and none of them are any good at it. They all end up being miserable, selfish or weak (sometimes all three), and each time she realises she has failed once again, Orchid - now ruling the country of China - protests that she doesn't know where she went wrong. She complains to the now-uncaring reader, and you begin to lose patience with a woman whose common sense is clearly lacking when it comes to raising children. She switches from being indulgent to suddenly taking a harsher line, by which time the damage is done.

The saving grace of the novel is its' adroit following of the political situation in China during Orchid's time as Empress - the situation is described in detail, and I learned a lot about Chinese history from the book. In that sense, it's reccomended. Unfortunately, however, you have to put up with the now less-than-likeable character of the narrator and her saga of failed upbringings to get the historical benefit.

If you want a history of pre-war China, I would reccomend this book - as long as you can skip the irritating character-driven sections.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 March 2014
In terms of writing quality, Anchee Min is consistent here with this book’s prequel; Empress Orchid. Min writes with a wonderful ease and flow, combining imaginative description with show over tell.

The Last Empress differs from Empress Orchid in construction of plot and pacing however. Whilst Empress Orchid covered a handful of years of the eponymous character’s life, The Last Empress covers several decades. This means the pacing is considerably different. Empress Orchid had the leisure to dwell on choice moments, to draw out key events. The Last Empress aspires to a grander and more epic scope, but it only achieves this half the time. The other half, plot points are summarised and trotted out in after-the-event narrative. I feel a little mean-spirited pointing that out, but it’s true. It’s still well-written, but it feels abridged and abbreviated. The Last Empress is longer than Empress Orchid, so it’s hard to see what Min could have done, other than make this book even longer or make this into a trilogy – either of which I would have been perfectly happy with. The way it’s written as is however, I do feel that the story has lost some immersion and depth due to events being skimmed over, which is a shame as I like these two books, and Min’s writing style.

Still a good read however, and in some ways the story in The Last Empress is even more poignant than in Empress Orchid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2010
I ordered The Last Empress after I read Empress Orchid and I was not disappointed at all. Again, Anchee Min succeeded in drawing the reader into the centre of the beautiful but harsh world within the Forbidden City. The time and research into Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi's life on the throne is projected perfectly in this book and from the first page you get dragged into the joy, happiness and pain of one of China's most powerful but humble empresses and her goal to make both her sons succeed as the Emperor of China. A well written book with happy, laugh out-loud, suspense and sad moments and once again, an absolute master piece by Anchee Min. I will definitely recommend it to other readers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
What a fabulous follow up to Anchee Min's Empress Orchid! I read the first whilst on holiday last year (and to be honest it was a last minute pick up in the airport before heading off...and I only bought it as my travel companion recommended her to me (as a male I don't think many men would be attracted to such novels). This book takes you further into the life, loves and tribulations of Orchid; and what a fabulous look into an amazing world it is. This book kept me enthralled from the first page to the last. Although sad in lots of ways, Orchid led a stunning life and what a book to tell it. Another marvellous achievement by Anchee Min! Thanks!
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