Trigger Warning: descriptions of rape, violence, violence against children
A group of foreigners in the northeastern town of Shishan finds the status quo upset when Helen Frances, a young woman with a middle class upbringing but a fatal flaw, arrives and falls in love with the Hon Henry Manners.
The most astonishing range of characters awaits you in this novel; the wicked brothel-keeper Madam Liu and her sadistic son Ren Ren, the pragmatic, rational missionary Dr Airton, the American zealot Septimus Harding, the equivocal Mandarin. Not to mention the wonderfully complicated anti-hero Henry Manners, the prostitutes Fan Yimei and Shen Ping, the bandit Iron Man Wang, the Mongolian shaman. And the ingénue, Helen Frances herself, whose innocence covers an unorthodox curiosity.
I’ve had this book for ages and it’s taken me so long to get around to picking it up, but I’m so glad that I waited and I picked it up now.
I really enjoyed reading this epic adventure story taking place between 1899 and 1900 China, where the British have come on missionary trips to try and convert Chinese people to Christianity. But this hasn’t gone down well. There is conflict between the two sides not understanding each others cultures or religion. And I mean to be fair, who asked the British to come and try to convert the Chinese people to Christianity?
But I digress! In this book we follow a few different people over about a year as the tensions between the sides increases until the Boxers start attacking villages, they attack both Chinese people and British/foreigners alike, mainly they are attacking Christians. But at the centre of everyone is the brother the Palace of Heavenly Pleasure run by Mother Liu and her vicious son Ren Ren.
Some parts of this book are incredibly difficult to read because of the details that Williams went into so I had to put it down for a while after I read those passages. But I can see how those parts of the book are important to the overall story.
When Helen Frances arrives in China visiting her father, she seems to be the catalyst for a lot of the events that happen, her unwavering curiosity finds her attracted to Henry Manners who has questionable morals and an excellent understanding of people. The connection between these two is undenable and with Helen Frances curiosity she wants to know more about this curious and secretive Henry Manners.
This is an adventure story, interspersed with a love story. I could honeslty go on and on about this book because there are so many characters and stories to follow along with, but I don’t want to give anything away.