Thursday, November 1, 2012

REVIEW: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

The Last Concubine The Last Concubine by Catt Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

The story has a couple of flaws, and depending on readers' pet peeves the flaws can be overlooked or maddening. I managed to overlook all of them but one. And that one flaw cost this book a star.

Cultural Accuracy, the lack thereof

The book was written in an apparent Western PoV because of the egocentric way the character acted and thought. The characters didn't seriously consider the potential consequences of their action about how it might affect friends, family, and the kingdom at large. To explain it another way, the characters acted more like American-born Chinese than ancient Chinese people.

The book did get the courtly etiquette correctly, but there seemed to be a belief that genuflecting is for public display. No. People of lower position have to genuflect at every occasion, even when it is private and to their loved ones. It is especially important when their loved ones are rulers and royals. Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei were too intimate with each other too quickly.

In another example, the fact that Lan'xiu was a man and not a woman with a working reproductive system whose purpose is to pump out children was glossed over. For a HEA, they used the opportunity of Lan'xiu's bloody injury from a battle by reporting it as a miscarriage that resulted in permanent infertility. The infertility cover-up was good but it lacked the seriousness and, in fact, should have brought more troubles than it solved. It didn't matter that Hüi Wei had many children already. This was a family-oriented culture. Infertility shouldn't have been dismissed as a trivial thing.

In spite of these examples and a few more, the cultural inaccuracies were within my tolerance. YMMV.

The Transgender Issue, the lack thereof

I loved Lan'xiu. I loved how his being a transgender was largely a non-issue, in the sense that there was no angst, bigotry, and preachy talk about gender identity. I expected Lan'xiu to resent his mother for raising him as a girl so his half brother, Lord Wu Min, wouldn't kill him as a potential male rival to his half brother's inheritance. Turned out Lan'xiu loved his mother and liked being a women.

I also loved Hüi Wei's quick acceptance of Lan'xiu, mostly because that meant I didn't have to wait for smut to appear.

The only thing that bothered me about Lan'xiu was the shallow characterization of him as an Oracle. The story said he was Oracle in the beginning and didn't mention it again till near the end when Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei went to war against Wu Min. The Oracle part of the story reeked of Deus Ex Machina.

Technically Polygamy, Truly Monogamy

Lan'xiu became Hüi Wei's seventh wife which meant Hüi Wei had six other wives. In ancient China, polygamy was the norm. In a way this made the romance a menage, but it wasn't. Far from it.

Hüi Wei treated his 1st wife, the "official" wife, as a best friend much to her sadness because she really loved him. As for the other five wives, he married them out of obligation; he treated four as friendly acquaintances and one as a political burden.

Before Lan'xiu became his seventh wife, Hüi Wei didn't have sexual relations with any of the six wives for years. Though it wasn't required of the story, the romance was kept strictly between Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei.

By law, Hüi Wei had seven wives. By practice, by true love Hüi Wei had one wife: Lan'xiu.

Gay For You, Or Maybe Just Gay

Since Hüi Wei didn't have any sexual interest in his wives for years, I wasn't convinced that Hüi Wei went GFY for Lan'xiu. When Hüi Wei discovered the protagonist was male and promptly shagged him that night, my hunch that Hüi Wei was a slow-blooming gay became definite.

The hunch solidified when Hüi Wei admitted to his best friend, Lord Jiang, that he liked the gay sex.

Honestly, it did not matter to me that he was gay or GFY. However, I liked to believe Hüi Wei was gay because that meant there was zero chance he would ever be interested in his other wives who would vie for his attention and make the romance a true ménage.

The Sexual Content: I wanted more

Lan'xiu was submissive, Hüi Wei was dominant; they made clothes-ripping passionate love. I was disappointed when the smut tapered off towards the end of the story. I was hoping for a sex scene at the ending but instead got a HEA narrated explicitly, much my distaste.

There was a HEA, yet...

The story was told in 3rd PoV with Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei's as the dominant PoVs. However, the story began and ended with some italicized paragraphs of 3rd person omniscient narrative to set the tone of the book as a (pseudo) historical. I was fine with the beginning narrative, but I was infuriated by the ending narrative.

The HEA told me what happened to the couple after they won against the bad guy. It told me in explicit details what happened to every character in the story, how they lived and died, the worst being how Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei lived their life and died. Yes, the couple had a long fulfilling life, love everlasting and all, but the mentioning of their death spoiled the romance for me. TM-fucking-I.

I really wished the HEA was left to the imagination, instead of being explicitly spelled out.

In Conclusion

I rate The Last Concubine 3-stars for I liked it.

I recommend the book to readers who prefer contemporary romance and generally avoid historical ones, and readers who want a decent plot with some D/s smut. I do not recommend the book to readers who prefer historical romance and insist on accuracy.

For similar smutty reads, try:
Fall of a State Over the Mountain of the Moon  A Tale of a Samurai Consort

Amazon GoodReads

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