The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas
Book One of The Heart of Blade duology
Publication Date: July 20, 2014
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Summary (from Goodreads):
In the waning days of the last dynasty, in a quiet, beautiful corner of imperial Peking, a young girl's blissful ignorance is shattered when she learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of an English adventurer and a Chinese courtesan. What future is there for such a girl? But a mysterious figure steps forward and offers to instruct her in the highest forms of martial arts--a path to a life of strength and independence.
Half a world away in England, a young boy's idyllic summer on the Sussex downs implodes with the firing of a single bullet. Torn from his family, he becomes the hostage of a urbanely sadistic uncle. He dreams of escaping to find his beloved friend--but the friend is in China, ten thousand miles away.
The girl trains to be deadly. The boy flees across continents. They do not know it yet, but their lives are already inextricably bound together, and will collide one fateful night when they least expect it.
CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON meets DOWNTON ABBEY, this remarkable tale of friendship, danger, and coming of age will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.
A prequel to MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY.
What I Liked:
I love Sherry Thomas's books. Her YA series, The Burning Sky/The Perilous Sea/Book three, is amazing! One of my favorite YA series ever. I'm a huge historical romance fan as well, and I plan on reading some of her historical romance novels. This particular novel is not a historical romance novel - it is the prequel to a historical romance novel, My Beautiful Enemy. The Hidden Blade details the childhoods of Leighton, an English boy, and Ying-ying, a Chinese girl.
Leighton's father and mother are somewhat estranged - his mother goes to meet another man once a month, and has a child by the man. Leighton's father has found comfort in the arms of a man, Herb, but his father hates that he is homosexual. This book is set in the late eighteen hundreds, so it was politically and religiously "wrong" to be homosexual. Leighton's father and Herb are caught by Sir Curtis, Leighton's father's brother and patriarch of the family. The father kills himself, the mother and her bastard son are sent away, and Herb runs for his life. Leighton, a child of about eleven, must live with Sir Curtis, a prison-like life. He cannot escape, cannot leave the house, cannot run.
Meanwhile, Ying-ying leaves as the daughter of a concubine. Da-ren is not her father, but an unknown Englishman is. Ying-ying is not well-accepted in the Chinese society because she is the illegitimate daughter of a foreigner and an unmarried woman, and that woman is now a concubine. When her mother dies, she and Amah (a woman that has been taking care of her and training her in martial arts) move to Da-ren's home - which is a prison of its own.
This book is extremely sad. It's heartbreaking to watch the two stories parallel each other, because both children suffer so much, at young ages, in different situations. My heart hurt for both characters, for their losses, for their pain, for what they could have had. Neither character meets the other in this book, but they are bound by one thread. It was an interesting connection, though it was sad to see that they never actually met.
The storytelling is rich and intriguing. Thomas switches back and forth, between Leighton and Ying-ying's story. Thomas's writing is beautiful and purposeful, as always. She infuses so much culture and history into this book. I loved seeing the portrayal of women's roles in England and in China, the presence of homosexuality in England and in China - how different and yet how striking each "world' was. Very well done by Thomas.
Overall, I have a solidly positive outlook on this book - there were just some things that didn't work for me.
What I Did Not Like:
Why this book received three stars from me has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Thomas wrote an AMAZING prequel novel. The stories of Leighton and Ying-ying are beautiful and powerful, and I'm sure they put things into perspective for readers who plan on reading My Beautiful Enemy (I haven't decided if I want to read it or not).
My problem was, this book was entirely too heartbreaking for me. I spent the ENTIRE novel feeling desolate or angry and agonized or upset. While that definitely shows the skill of the writer, for making her reader so emotionally distraught while reading the book, it wasn't something I enjoyed. I didn't LIKE reading this book. I didn't enjoy feeling distraught. Sadly, there were times when I struggled to keep reading, because I wasn't enjoying the reading.
Again, this doesn't really have to do with the storytelling, the quality of the story, the genre, etc. The story made me incredibly sad and angry and I couldn't find myself liking the book as I was reading it. Do you see the distinction? I liked the book overall, but I didn't find myself enjoying it as I was reading it. I definitely cannot see myself rereading it.
Would I Recommend It:
Ehh. Not quite. Some people might like reading about hopelessness and despair and tragedy - personally, I don't. I try to read for enjoyment, enlightenment, enrichment, but not necessarily for sadness and heartache.
3 stars. A great book! Definitely a well-written piece of literature. Just... not my type of read, in terms of the sadness and tragedy. Love the historical fiction though.
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