I was reluctant to review this book because I know very little about Chinese history and I have never been attracted to it. I am so glad I stepped outside my comfort zone because this is an extraordinary story.
Set in China in the early 19th century, this epic story revolves around Shek Yang, and the main man in her life, Cheng Yat. Shek Yang was bartered by her father as a child and scrapes a living as a prostitute on a dilapidated boat from the men in the nearby village. One day pirates raid the village when she happens to be there and she is carried off to become a slave. Despite her fighting hard enough to do him an injury, the pirate captain likes her spirit and forcefully makes her his wife. He is taciturn, rough and free with his blows. This is not a love match, but it is a delight to watch these two tough people learn to respect and trust each other.
There is more to Shek Yang than first meets the eye. She knows nothing about piracy or seafaring, but she has an instinctive knowledge of leadership and also knows a thing or two about manipulating men. After she forms a partnership with Cheng, both transcend their humble beginnings and plan to rule the China coast.
A bevy of other pirates and their leaders populate the book and they come in all different shapes, sizes and sorts – a poet among them. All are hard-core, not only fighting for plunder but intriguing against each other. To say it’s a cut-throat world is rather to state the obvious. The pages are packed with action, but the reader gets a breathing space while Shek Yang and Cheng Yat fight each other.
Kudos to the author for research. It can’t have been easy getting information on 19th century pirates and actually getting in their skin the way he has. He has not softened his pirates. They are authentic and yet we can still cheer them on. I even came to like Cheng Yat.
Violence, sexuality and obscenities are part of the package, but I highly recommended it especially for readers who want something different.