Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Tigress Series

After reading and reviewing White Tigress, I decided I would finish the entire series before doing a review of any of the books.  Little did I know it would take me a year to finish all seven books--but more about that later.

The Tigress series takes place in 19th-century China, largely in Shanghai (although other locales like the Forbidden City are also featured).  As far as the story is concerned, it centers around a secret sect of Taoism that uses sex to achieve immortality; but the real binding theme in the series is the interaction between whites and Chinese.  I absolutely love the culture clashes in this book and how the two main characters consistently overcome the differences in their culture.

Oh, and by the way, this is the theme song for the series, as declared by me:

white tigress cover White Tigress is the first book in the series, and definitely the best (go here for my full review of the book).  It sets up the sect of Taoism that the other books are built on, as well as the state affairs between Europeans and Chinese in Shanghai.

hungry tigress In Hungry Tigress, wealthy heiress Joanna Crane is wandering around the woods, minding her own business, when suddenly she's set upon by brigands!  Actually, they're rebels from the Boxer Rebellion, and Joanna was looking for them because she believes in equality and freedom and all that, and wanted to lend moral support.  Unfortunately, they're ALSO brigands who don't trust the white folk. 

Joanna's about to be gang-raped by the rebels, when out of nowhere a traveling monk who just happens to be passing by saves her with his amazing fighting skillz.  Phew, that was a close one.  Despite being dirty and wearing poor clothing, her knight is hawt--and, as she quickly discovers, he's a Mandarin prince traveling in disguise (a pwince! I like him already).  But her savior, Zou Tun, cannot afford to let her or anyone else know what or where he is; so he takes her to the Tigress compound, where they learn how to become immortals through lovin'.

This book wasn't quite as good as White Tigress, but I still really enjoyed it.  At the beginning I was a wee bit worried Joanna was TSTL, because she could not keep her freaking mouth shut; but really she's just very innocent and idealistic.  Meanwhile, Zou Tun is like awesomesauce.  He's like if Jet Li was tall and was in romance novel--the man's got mad fighting skills.  And did I mention he was a prince? 

We also get to learn more about the practice and discipline of the Tigress Taoist sect, and are taken into the world of the compound, which we didn't see at all in the previous book.  My absolute favorite part of the novel, however, is when Joanna and Zou Tun go into the Forbidden City!

The ending was really strange and kind of blew of my mind with it's total awkwardness, yet it was oddly satisfying.  I found myself completely convinced that Joanna and Zou Tun would have their HEA keep on banging for immortality.

desperate tigress Desperate Tigress is the story of the leader of the Tigress compound, Shi Po.  What is Shi Po so desperate about, you might wonder?  She has a lot of freedom for a Chinese wife, a very wealthy husband, and is preturnaturally young and gorgeous due to her practices in the way of the Tigress (or whatever they're called).  Well, she's desperate to become an immortal, obviously!  And all these young barbarian women are becoming immortal right and left!  What's a girl to do.

This is probably the only book in the series that I really didn't like.  The strength of the other books was that one of the parties was Chinese and the other was English, so there was a cultural tension that made their relationship really interesting.  Here Shi Po falls in love with her husband, Kui Yu, who is also Chinese.  Ergo zero of that cultural tension.  Another thing that frustrated me is that Shi Po and Kui Yu are actually already in love with each other when this book begins.  So, just to recap:  they're already in love, and they're already married.  Uh, conflict please?

There was also this one part of the book where Kui Yu (who has to be in his mid-forties at the very least), a seriously wealthy, middle-aged merchant, takes off his shirt and... he has six-pack abs.  OH YEAH TOTALLY BELIEVABLE.  That did me in.  Just imagining it makes me giggle.  You know what would have made this book 100% better?  If Shi Po fell in love with some eighteen-year-old and then convinced her husband to let him live in their house forever as Second Husband.

burning tigress After the Desperate Tigress debacle, it took me a while to get to the next book in the series.  In Burning Tigress, a friend of Joanna's, Charlotte Wicks, starts sleeping with her father's secretary/majordomo (known as a First Boy), who is also Chinese.  Class and cultural tensions there, my friends!  The servant in question, Ken Jin, is a bit of a man-whore because he likes to practice using his jade dragon (uh, so to speak) on bored European women.  He has no plans to introduce Charlotte to the ways of the Tigress, however, until she catches him doing his, er, exercises.  And because she's heard a little bit about the Taoist sect from Joanna, Charlotte decides she wants--no, needs!--Ken Jin to show her how to, urmmmm, stimulate her yin.  IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN (that's just beginning of the sexual metaphors flying around these books, trust me).

This was another enjoyable read, mainly because of the characters.  Ken Jin was difficult to like at first, because he seemed very serious and also a bit greedy.  But as the story progresses and Ken Jin's (very extensive) backstory unfolds, the reasons behind his actions become clear.  Charlotte--well, to be honest, I don't remember much about her character.  Hm.  But she is pretty fearless, seeing as how she flaunts society and defies her father by carrying on a very serious affair with their servant.  Char fancies herself something of a Chinese scholar and is insatiably curious (which no doubt leads to the whole Tigress thing). 

I became very emotionally involved in this book and really felt for Ken Jin by the end.  Although the conclusion wasn't as satisfying as in Hungry Tigress, overall it was good.

cornered tigress Confession:  I never read this book.  I have it; it's my TBR pile right now.  But I don't want to read it.

Cornered Tigress is about Little Pearl, Shi Po's second-in-command at the Tigress compound and a character who featured prominently in Hungry Tigress and Desperate Tigress.  Unfortunately, I hate Little Pearl.  I have no interest in learning about her character, and I definitely do not want to see her achieve immortality, via sexual congress or not.  Sorries!  At some point I realized that if I waited to force myself to read this book, I would never finish the series.  So I decided to skip it.  Who knows, if I'm desperate for entertainment I might come back to it some day.

tempted tigress Tempted Tigress is the last book in the series, and it covers some very serious territoy.  Anna Marie Thompson has had a pretty shitty life, from being orphaned in China, to being lured into using opium at a young age.  To escape said shitty life, Anna is smuggling opium across China to Shanghai, where she plans to sell it in exhange for passage to England--a country she's never even been to. 

Her progress is impeded, however, at the Grand Canal, where she catches the eye of the Enforcer--kind of the 19th-century Chinese version of a drug czar.  Except when Zhi-Gang finds drug smugglers and dealers, he doesn't put them on trial; he just executes them.  He doesn't execute Anna, though, because when takes a look at her qi, he immediately knows that she's going to change his life.

Zhi-Gang drags Anna off to his boat where some self-stimulation of the yin and yang of both parties commences.  Despite the fact that they're attracted to each other like stains are attracted to my clothes, Anna is no fool and manages to escape the boat and take off across farmland.  That's when she gets both herself and Zhi-Gang into way more trouble than either of them bargained for.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable read--surprising because the issues Lee deals with in this novel are pretty dark and damn depressing.  Not only do you have drug addiction and smuggling, but also the trade in young girls, which both the Chinese and whites use to finance their material wants and desires.  When we get a peek into a wealthy Chinese household in this book, one with four wives, it highlights how their lives aren't that much better than Anna's.  Lee demonstrates very effectively how women, whether white or Chinese, are viewed as little more animals.

But!  There is a solution to this problem, which Lee--or Anna--proposes, and I bet you can guess what it is.  L. O. V. E.  By believing in love, both she and the four wives have hope for a better life.

Anna herself is probably one of my favorite heroines in the Tigress series.  She definitely has her weaknesses, but she's a completely sympathic character and one I definitely found myself liking.  Anna's lived a tough life that has left her the complete opposite of pampered, wealthy girls like Joanna and Charlotte.  Even though she can barely spell (or speak English, for that matter), she's canny and able to think on her feet and manipulate people to get what she wants.  If the term tigress applies to any of these characters, it does to her.

Zhi-Gang was a bit less likable.  He's a scholar, but he has this insane temper--trust me, you do not want to make this guy angry.  HULK SMASH.  And for someone who's tired of killing, he seems to do an awful lot of it.  Just saying.  But he grew on me.

For most of the book, I kept wondering why this was part of the Tigress series at all--neither the hero nor the heroine are a Tigress or Dragon, they don't use any of the "stimulating" exercises, and most of it takes place far away from Shanghai.  Well, it turns out there is a reason for the book's inclusion in the series--but I can't tell you want it is because that would spoil the surprise.  So you'll just have to read it and see.

Despite its rather radical departure from the rest of the books, Tempted Tigress was really good.  I cried at the end; and the more I think about the book, the more I like it now that I've finished it.  The ending was a little dumb, however.

Overall, the Tigress books have to be one of my favorite romantic historical series.  Nearly every book completely grabbed me and transported me into the world of the story.  Yes, some of the stuff was a little ridiculous, but I really didn't mind that much.  This is pure escapism written with romance and thought, and plenty of originality.  None of the books were predictable, and every single one showed me a different side of 19th-century China and the lives of the Europeans and Chinese within it. 

If you haven't tried these books yet--what are you waiting for?

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