Empress Orchid by Anchee Min : Book Review

Storyline Rating : 5/5 stars

Series : Book 1 of Empress Orchid

Brief Summary from Goodreads :

The setting is China’s Forbidden City in the last days of its imperial glory, a vast complex of palaces and gardens run by thousands of eunuchs and encircled by a wall in the center of Peking. In this highly ordered place — tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension — the Emperor, “the Son of Heaven,” performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines. It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen. It is not a good time to enter the city. The Ch’ing Dynasty in 1852 has lost its vitality, and the court has become an insular, xenophobic place. A few short decades earlier, China lost the Opium Wars, and it has done little since to strengthen its defenses or improve diplomatic ties. Instead, the inner circle has turned further inward, naively confident that its troubles are past and the glory of China will keep the “barbarians” — the outsiders — at bay. Within the walls of the Forbidden City the consequences of a misstep are deadly. As one of hundreds of women vying for the attention of the Emperor, Orchid soon discovers that she must take matters into her own hands. After training herself in the art of pleasing a man, she bribes her way into the royal bedchamber and seduces the monarch. A grand love affair ensues; the Emperor is a troubled man, but their love is passionate and genuine. Orchid has the great good fortune to bear him a son. Elevated to the rank of Empress, she still must struggle to maintain her position and the right to raise her own child. With the death of the Emperor comes a palace coup that ultimately thrusts Orchid into power, although only as regent until her son’s maturity. Now she must rule China as its walls tumble around her, and she alone seems capable of holding the country together.

My Point of View :

Fabulous story! I’ve always love watching historical dramas – Hong Kong and China. I love their beautiful costumes, intricate headdresses and of course the history that the drama is based on. I’ve never read a book that’s actually based on facts of China history. For those who are curious, Empress Orchid is actually Empress Cixi, the famous empress that rules alongside Empress Ci’an, “behind the curtain”.

Empress Orchid (or the author…) describes everything in vivid details – from the girls’ shoes to the structure of the Forbidden City. I don’t really know how much of the details are real but I can really picture everything in my mind. The story is also amazing, I can almost feel the pain and sorrow that drowns Orchid. I really admired her strength to endure everything that was thrown at her and it’s common knowledge that it’s really hard to live in China, in that particular era as a woman.

The only character that I really dislike (not hate, just dislike) would be Nuharoo. I can’t believe how shallow her mind is or should I say how naive she is, but then again you can’t really blame her since that is how she was raised which in turn shaped her personality. She is definitely not Empress-material, I just wish Orchid could have been the Empress (as in with the full authority) since she is way more intelligent, mature and level-headed.

Now I just can’t wait to get the second book and read how Orchid’s journey would end (I do know how the history end, I’m just curious how the story in this book would end).

Favorite Quote :

“Who would stay with you down the road if you all were known for instilling fear?”

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