The Russian Concubine Paperback – 1 Nov 2007
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Wonderful . . . a gripping love story . . . A hugely ambitious and atmospheric epic novel (Kate Mosse, author of LABYRINTH)
The Russian Concubine is a great story of love, loss and conflicting loyalties in a fascinatingly precarious moment of history. The wonderfully drawn and all-too-human characters struggle to survive in a world of danger and bewildering change, constantly (Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series)
A pulse-racing romance . . . breathtakingly good' Marie Claire (‘[an] achingly beautiful epic’ New Woman)
Whether you like romance, history, action or adventure, this highly accomplished, sweeping epic is a perfect winter read . . . Escapism at its best, this novel brilliantly captures the sights, sounds and atmosphere of early twentieth-century Russia and C (‘A rollicking good read, with a fast-moving plot and oodles of colourful characters and evocative locations. The best thing about it, however, is Lydia . . . a heroine that one hopes to meet for more adventures in the future’ Telegraph)
A sweeping novel set in war-torn China, with a star-crossed love story at its centre.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
I devoured the book in a mere two days. I experienced every moment of the suffering and joy of the intimately drawn characters, going through every emotion with the superb Lydia each step of the way. The love-story is powerful but never cheesy, and I now feel I have a much deeper understanding of that period of China out of which Communism grew, in a way I never did before.
Kate Furnivall has an exceptional narrative voice and I will certainly be reading her next book.
The setting - China before the rise of Chairman Mao (at this time a political agitator with little power) - and the descriptions of European emigre life in Junchow, particularly for White Russians, was interesting. I don't know how accurate the history that Furnivall gives is, but I enjoyed learning more about this time and place. The trouble with the book though is that the story and the characters are wildly over the top and stereotyped. Nearly all the characters are cliches, while the plot lurches from one over-the-top situation to the next. So, we have a Russian bodyguard with one eye who's constantly quaffing vodka and swearing, a vicious warlord always cursing 'foreign devils' and his children, a porn-loving corrupt British official, a stunningly beautiful and submissive Chinese woman prepared to be mistress to an Englishman, opium-addiction, vodka-addiction, Russian aristocrats dripping jewels, a pious 'good' Englishman and numerous fights, assassination attempts and dramatic encounters.
In addition, some elements of the plot were just bizarre or didn't make sense. Chang-An Lo is apparently a serious Communist and atheist, but also prays devoutly to various old Chinese gods (to get the right exotic ambience, clearly). He suffers the most terrible injuries but makes a full recovery in a matter of weeks. Valentina is apparently a concert pianist (how easy was it for a Russian aristocratic girl to become this in Tsarist Russia?) but seems to make no efforts to earn any money from her talent (even giving lessons) apart from the one abortive recital. Lydia is apparently an intelligent girl, and very resourceful, but seems completely oblivious to the fact that stealing a priceless ruby necklace might get her in serious trouble. (Actually, the ruby necklace plot lost me totally after a while.) Theo Willoughby is meant to be a considerate and enlightened man, but never seems to feel any guilt about taking a young Chinese woman into his house and making her his mistress without suggesting marriage - which in the 1920s would have ruined a woman of any culture. It all seemed rather unlikely. Also what was the title about? Valentina was hardly a concubine, even if she did use her charms for money.
In fairness, there are some enjoyable things about the book - while I'm not sure that the love affair between Lydia and Chang An Lo would have developed at the speed it did in reality, and the sex scenes are full of the usual cliches, Furnivall does make the reader care a lot about this young couple, some of the depictions of the mother-daughter relationship are rather fine, and Furnivall evokes the city of Junchow and its surroundings well - her written style is much better than many writers of this romantic-exotic genre. All this made the book a pleasant read, but its rather luridly melodramatic tone and rather cardboard (on the whole) characters and plot would stop me re-reading it. Nevertheless, I might read the sequel if I find it second-hand, just to see what happened to Lydia.
If you treat this as a novel rather than expecting to learn a lot about China and the beginnings of communism there then you will not be disappointed. The author has done a great job of setting up all the main protagonists and pulling you into their lives. By the end of the book it is hard to decide who you like and who you don't anymore.
I know nothing of this period in history so cannot comment on the accuracy of the narrative. This is not even the type of book I would normally pick up, but, having borrowed it from a friend I struggled to put it down wondering how the author would pull so many different characters together to create an ending to the story. Whilst I felt slightly let down by the ending, it was, by no means, the worst I have come across and a fairly good effort.
If you like romance, a bit of history, strong intertwined characters and an easy to read novel, then I recommend it to you.
The historic Chinese culture is nothing I knew about - and quite frankly had never appealed to me before. I almost picked this book up by accident. It was an offer of buy 3 for 2 at Waterstones and it was the only reason why i bought it and I must say It's the BEST thing I have done in a long time. I learnt so much about not only China and it's culture and political history - but I felt a sense of realisation of love and loyalty. Astounding!!
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