The Green Phoenix

36085083The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-Made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang by Alice Poon

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 372 pp

Publisher: Earnshaw Books

Year: 2017

The Green Phoenix by Alice Poon is a sweeping saga of a fascinating woman, the Empress Xiaozhuang. She began as Bumbutai, a Mongolian princess who became a concubine at the Manchu court when she was 12  and later, became the first empress of the Qing Dynasty. She guided her country through political machinations, upheaval, and strife to see it become one of the most powerful dynasties on earth.

I confess that I know nothing at all about Chinese history. Going into this, I couldn’t have been more ignorant about a topic if I tried. That said, The Green Phoenix was an absolutely riveting novel, and appears to be meticulously researched. The atmosphere hooked me from the start and I simply didn’t want to put it down. I lost rather a lot of sleep over this book. The politics of court life were complex and, at times, harrowing, on par with anything the Tudors or Plantagenets could come up with. The intrigues and plots were so intricate and delicately wrought that I found myself breathless, wanting to know how this woman would make things right or take advantage of the situation. I found myself rooting for a person who has been gone for nearly 400 years – her story is over and unchanging at this point, but it was as gripping to me as if it were happening in real time.

The characters in this novel are people readers grow to care about. Some of them I hated, but I was supposed to. I admit that I did have some trouble keeping many of them straight, partly because there were so many of them and partly because I was having a hard time with the names. That is all on me, though; I wonder if it might be easier to keep characters straight if I could listen to this as an audiobook. Perhaps one day it will be available through Audible, but it seems not to be at the moment.

Poon’s use of language can only be described as elegant. I highlighted many of my favorite passages, as is my habit when reading any book, but I think my favorite was, “A kind ruler is an invincible ruler,” something many leaders even today need to learn. Hong Taiji really embraced that when Bumbutai first joined his court as a child bride/concubine. He allowed her to continue her education, something that was precious to her, and he was kind to her. It can be hard to understand, even for seasoned readers of historical fiction, a girl marrying at 12 years old. For Bumbutai to go from a child at the beginning of the book to the formidable woman she was is a treat to witness, all thanks to Poon’s masterful wordsmithing. Bumbutai was a woman of great strength, generosity, love, and humility. I would have liked to know her, and after reading this book, I felt almost like I did.

Overall, this was a captivating book, and it read very quickly despite its length. Very highly recommended!

 

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