Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review - "Bloodline: War of the Roses, #3" by Conn Iggulden

I had previously read the first novel in the series Stormbird and liked it but did not love it - the fictional character Derry Brewer was irritatingly unreal to me. In this third novel he only has a small part and his behavior and actions are much more believable.

The novel is divided into two parts: the first mainly dealing with the vicious Battle of Towton between the Lancastrian army led by Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI's wife) and the one led by Edward of York and Richard Neville ("the Kingmaker"), and the second part focusing on the poisonous feud between Elizabeth Woodville (Edward IV's wife) and Richard Neville, and the latter's ultimate downfall.

The battle scenes are skillfully drawn to keep readers on their toes, but after a while, they lose some of their pull (at least they did for me). I personally found Part Two to be much more satisfying than the first, if only for the vivid characterization of the leading actors like Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Richard Neville, and the piquant description of their increasingly convoluted relationships with each other as self-interest comes into play. In particular, Richard Neville is painted in a sympathetic light, which is not hard at all to believe.

Upon Elizabeth entering Edward's life, the friendship and trust between him and Richard begins to sour. Richard, once a loyal mentor and right-hand man to King Edward, is made to look like a fool in the French court on at least two occasions; his two brothers are made to suffer overt and callous humiliation, with the Neville family losing estates and titles; and Edward meanly rejects Richard's petition for his daughter to wed the Duke of Clarence (Edward's brother). So, we can at least understand his rage and his desire for revenge, even if we do not see the prudence of his making a precipitous and brash move to imprison Edward and consider putting Henry back on the throne. As things turn out, he sadly underestimates Edward's popularity among the subjects, which is enough to doom him to failure. His subsequent regret is almost a foregone conclusion.

This was a good historical fiction read that is worth 4 solid stars.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel's Review of The Green Phoenix

What can be more rewarding than to read a historian’s well-written and commending review of your new historical novel, and on an influential scholarly platform such as the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel? It just makes my years of hard work seem all worth it.

Here are some quotes from the review:-

“Where the novel really shines is in the level of historical detail. Poon gives sumptuous descriptions of dress and hairstyles. Lavish dinners and quick snacks are laid before the reader in such a way as to inspire hunger pangs. The early years of Bumbutai’s life, both at home in the Mongolian Steppe and in Hung Taiji’s palace in what is today Shenyang, particularly come to life with a vivid array of colors, textures, and sensations.”

“The style of the work owes a debt to the famous wuxia novels of Louis Cha (aka Jin Yong). Some passages are lush to the point of being florid, but Alice Poon’s novel is, at heart a, romance of two kingdoms. She breathes fresh life into characters who do not often find their way into English-language fiction, and does an excellent job of bringing to the page the story of a woman who was the foundation upon which an empire that lasted over 268 years was built.”

“One of the joys of studying this period in history is that every name sounds like it was taken from Game of Thrones.”

Thank you so much, Jeremiah!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: 大理外传:一个英国人的大理速写本

I was sent a copy of this delightful book by my GR friend Jason Pym, a British artist living in Dali, Yunnan, who wrote it entirely in Simplified Chinese. Usually I would decline reading anything written in Simplified Chinese, as I think it mutilates and degrades the beautiful Chinese language. But I made an exception in this case, not least because it was written by a native British, knowing how hard Chinese language writing is for Westerners. Another major reason is that I wanted to learn about the ancient history of beautiful Dali.

I was not disappointed. A portion of the book is dedicated to relating the early history of Yunnan's "white tribe" 白族, which can be traced back all the way to the times of the Three Kingdoms 三國. In the 8th century, this ethnic tribe came under the rule of Nanzhao 南詔 and became a tributary state annexed to the Tang dynasty. Due to subsequent disputes with Tang, Nanzhao 南詔 was annihilated after a period of prosperity. By the 10th century, the Duan family 段氏家族 established the Kingdom of Dali 大理國, which carried the tradition of Buddhism and ruled in peace for 300 years until its conquest by the Mongols.

Other portions offer interesting information about the landscape, flora and fauna, tribal customs and other cultural tidbits of Dali 大理.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

TimeOut Shanghai's Interview with Me

TimeOut Shanghai's Helen Roxburgh kindly interviewed me through Skype in October and posted the interview in the magazine.

Link to the Interview

Friday, December 1, 2017

An Interesting Question at the Book Launch

I was asked an interesting question by the moderator of the book launch for "The Green Phoenix". Note the response from the audience!