It is written in first person and is a sympathetic account of the life of Empress Dowager Cixi - from her humble beginnings to her rise as the Empress Dowager. Names within the story are different in spelling but retain the same pronunciation - allowing the reader to identify each relevant character to his or her real life counterpart. Plot summary[ edit ] The novel follows the life of a young Manchu girl named Orchid Yehonala. The story begins with the death of her father who was once a governor of Wuhu.
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A man who does not like power will suffer from its cruelty. In this highly ordered place -- tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension -- the Emperor, "the Son of Heaven," performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines.
It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen. It is not a good time to enter the city. A few short decades earlier, China lost the Opium Wars, and it has done little since to strengthen its defenses or improve diplomatic ties. Instead, the inner circle has turned further inward, naively confident that its troubles are past and the glory of China will keep the "barbarians" -- the outsiders -- at bay.
Within the walls of the Forbidden City the consequences of a misstep are deadly. As one of hundreds of women vying for the attention of the Emperor, Orchid soon discovers that she must take matters into her own hands.
After training herself in the art of pleasing a man, she bribes her way into the royal bedchamber and seduces the monarch. A grand love affair ensues; the Emperor is a troubled man, but their love is passionate and genuine. Orchid has the great good fortune to bear him a son. Elevated to the rank of Empress, she still must struggle to maintain her position and the right to raise her own child. Now she must rule China as its walls tumble around her, and she alone seems capable of holding the country together.
Like that best-selling historical novel, the heroine of Empress Orchid comes down to us with a diabolical reputation -- a woman who seized power through sexual seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. But reality tells a different story. Based on copious research, this is a vivid portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived in a male world, a woman whose main struggle was not to hold on to power but to her own humanity.
Richly detailed and completely gripping, Empress Orchid is a novel of high drama and lyricism and the first volume of a trilogy about the life of one of the most important women in history. Orchid, a young and whose beauty is compared to that of the orchid flower, finds herself caught up in the Imperial and royal court of the forbidden city, when a royal decree announces that the Emperor is looking for mistresses of pure blood, and since Orchid belonged from the Manchu community but with a mediocre background, she luckily gets chosen by the royal court and hereby commences her life in the palace, where mistresses plot against one another to win the trust of the Emperor by bearing him an heir.
And Orchid must join this race against fertility to make the king happy and to help herself in the royal court filled with jealousy, rage, rivalry and enmity both by the insiders as well as the by the outsiders.
So to save the Forbidden city as well as her 5-year old son, who is not of age to rule a kingdom, Empress Orchid takes over the throne, and like they have forever criticized that she became the reason of downfall of the Chinese kingdom in the hands of the European invaders and rulers, this book tells the truth behind her downfall.
As for me, I failed to connect with the Imperial queen who became the sole reason for the downfall of the Forbidden city.
The writing style of the author is really articulate and laced with enough emotions that will move the readers deeply. The prose is often lyrical and with a fairly fast pace, the story reads like some intriguing and mystifying fairy tale, only this fairy tale has no happy ending. There are lot of layers and multi elements that will keep the readers engaged till the very last page.
Sadly the characters took a back seat in this story. The story might be very rich, but the characters are extremely dull unlike their bright background. The main character, Orchid, is a compelling protagonist, but both her back story as well as her journey fails drastically to give the readers a clear impression about her personality. Her journey is enduring, but she is the one who fails to connect the readers with her heart breaking journey.
The rest of the supporting characters mar the charm of this story. In a nutshell, the story is extremely absorbing to read about but sadly the characters steal away the limelight and make it look tremendously dull and boring.
Verdict: Could have been a great book!
Published on Sat 28 Feb This very partial version of events swallows whole the Confucian Chinese male view of history, which, wherever possible, deflects blame for monumental historical catastrophes - such as the collapse of the Qing dynasty in - on to women. But the tide of opinion now seems to be turning for the last empress. Last year, Chinese television aired a hit drama series about the last years of the Qing dynasty, in which viewers were flabbergasted to see Cixi portrayed as "a nice person". Empress Orchid is a further, feminist step on the road to her rehabilitation. Written by a woman, narrated by Cixi herself, the novel turns the last empress into a dignified, discreet sovereign, holding her country together in the face of foreign invasion, dissolute emperors and scheming courtiers. Born into a declining gentry family in , the year-old Cixi travels to Beijing with her widowed mother, brother and sister.