Empress Orchid - Anchee Min I had high expectations for this book after hearing so much about it on GoodReads. It sort of fell short of those expectations though. I give it 3 ½ stars, which is not bad but I thought it was going to be a 4 to 5 star book.

The story itself was very good and it certainly started very well. Orchid is a very likeable character and because of her humble beginnings and barriers she has to battle you can’t help but like her. As woman living during the Ch’ing Dynasty in 1852 Orchid has many hurdles to overcome, especially when she is chosen as a royal wife against the wishes of the king’s mother. Despite the opulent appearance of royalty, court life was brutal with all the back stabbings, mind games, political alliances, and even too much downtime. Prior to reading the book I knew very little about Empress Orchid or Empress Dowager Cixi as she was known in real life, so I decided to do a bit of research after reading this book. The impression that I got through this research was that she was portrayed in a negative light as a very shrewd strategist. If the fictional account of Empress Orchid, however, has any note of truth I can’t say I blame her for using her intelligence and cunning to gain a foothold to power. It’s what any true leader has to do in that type of political environment where nasty rumors, poison and paid assassins are weapons of choice against enemies.

Min’s account of the Empress’s life gives the reader a better understanding of what lied behind this so-called shrewd woman. Starting from early on the fictional Orchid begins plotting with the help of her family on how to not only get the king to notice her, but to also remain his favorite. Not an easy task when you have a husband who boasts 7 Imperial wives and 3,000 concubines. Using her sexuality and keen intelligence she manages to position herself as his unofficial secretary to the king and produces an heir potentially securing her future. I won’t go into details, but Min follows the rise, fall and rise again of the Orchid’s power.

The book was very descriptive and very lush in detail, almost to a fault. I understood the opulence of the empire, but really I didn’t feel I needed to know every detail and what this or that was covered in and what jewels were used. I found it distracting and not conducive to the plot at all. Also, the king was so whiney that he was grating on my nerves for most of the book and unfortunately, he was a prominent character. The ending though is what really disappointed me. In my opinion it was lame. All this build up and then I blinked and missed it. I did enjoy the book though and learning about the sacrifices that Orchid had to make and about political and court life, but it’s not one that I would highly recommend.