Title: Tales of Ming Courtesans
Author: Alice Poon
Publisher: Earnshaw Books
Publish Date: June 1, 2020
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans
traces the destinies of the three girls from the seamy world of human
trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent
pleasure district of the city of Nanjing, evoking episodes in Memoirs of a Geisha.
The girls all existed - Rushi was a famous poet, Yuanyuan became the concubine of a general who changed the course of Chinese history by supporting the Manchu invasion in 1644 and Xiangjun challenged the corruption of court officials to try to save her lover. Rushi's daughter, Jingjing, gradually pieces together the stories of the three from a memoir left to her by her mother.
Betrayal, tenacity and hope all come together in a novel that brings to life an important era in China's history, and particularly highlights the challenges faced by independent-minded women."
My Two Cents:
Now comes the time in the pandemic where I am just looking for an escape. I'm dreaming of books that thrust me into the center of a fascinating story with supreme world building and "Tales of Ming Courtesans" certainly fit the bill. This book tells the stories of Liu Rushi, Chen Yuanyuan, and Li Xiangjun, three famous courtesans in China during the Ming Dynasty. Their stories are fascinating and I loved following each one of them!
Liu Rushi, Chen Yuanyuan, and Li Xiangjun are all very different from each other, they just happen to have the same job. Court life is difficult for all of them to adjust to - there are so many rules to follow and so many social norms to tow the line on. There is also a lot to just get used to: everything must follow certain unspoken rules and seeing how each woman navigates this in their own way really made the story for me. I love that through these three characters, you get three very different viewpoints of what life would have been like for a courtesan within the palace walls!
The detail of the book was really good! I really liked how the author brought the Ming Dynasty to life. You can picture what life was like there: the glitz, the glamour, and the hardship when things didn't fall according to the rules. You see the dazzling palaces and the grand events. While sometimes the descriptions do verge into telling rather than showing, the balance is generally pretty good. This isn't an era that I know a lot about and I loved seeing it through the eyes of these characters.
This book is perfect for those looking for tons of palace intrigue and strong female characters!