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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to engage with, 27 July 2008
This review is from: The Last Empress (Paperback)
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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