Author: Carol Jones
Publication Date: 23 April 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
The Concubine’s Child is the first adult novel by Carol Jones, although she has written a number of works for a younger audience. This is the first of her works that I have read.
The Concubine’s Child falls into the genre of historical fiction. For those used to reading historical fiction from a Western perspective this work is a very different read with its strong Asian culture and religion.
I found it to be a fascinating read, although challenging at times with following the use of different names for people in different situations, the hierarchical structure of wives and concubines and accepting the different cultural norms so alien to those of us raised in the Western world.
The story is in two parts, and the chapters move between them. The story of Yu Lan is based in Kuala Lumpur in the early 1930’s, the second part of the tale begins in England in 2015 where we meet Yu Lan’s great grandson, Nick Chan.
Yu Lan is sixteen, tall for a Chinese girl, daughter of the apothecary she is well versed in the various herbs and their uses.
In her heart of hearts Yu Lan already knows who she wishes her husband to be, Ming, the boy she has known since early childhood, who has already given her a jade ring and said that when the time is right he will ask his father’s permission to marry her.
But Yu Lan’s dreams of life with Ming are shattered when her father agrees to sell her to be the concubine (or secondary wife) of the towkay Chan Boon Siew who is desperate for an heir.
Madam Chan, the towkay’s first wife, orders Yu Lan to call her Ah JIe (elder sister), a kindness that Madam Chan expects the girl to receive with pleasure and is dissatisfied when she does not. Yu Lan is advised she is to refer to the towkay as Sin Saang and that henceforth she herself will be known as Sai Mui (effectively small younger sister).
The Towkay is not a cruel man, but his actions in the bedroom are vigorous and by no means gentle and loving and it soon becomes obvious that Yu Lan is pregnant.
Madam Chan becomes more and more jealous of the towkay’s fondness for ongoing bedroom activities with the girl and she takes every conceivable opportunity to pinch her painfully and remind her of her lowly position in the household.
When Yu Lan is delivered of the much desired son, she must deal with being the actual mother of the child, while Madam Chan is treated as if she is the mother of the child. And so Yu Lan determines to lay a curse on the family to ensure there will be no descendants and that the towkay and his wife’s spirits will wither and die.
Nick and his wife Sarah are visiting his mother June at Christmas when he drops the bombshell that he has been offered a full-time contract at Monash University’s campus in Kuala Lumpur. June is horrified, she fears that only trouble will come from Nick returning to the country of her birth. Sarah is committed to her job in London so will be unable to be there with him, but they are both young, with as yet no children, and both believe their marriage is strong enough to withstand a few months apart. So when the phone rings from Malaysia with the news that Nick has been admitted to hospital with a serious head injury Sarah’s world rapidly begins to fall apart.
As Sarah races to be beside her husband’s bedside past and present move onto a collision course. Will Yu Lan’s curse come to fruition bringing the Chan family to an end?
While I really enjoyed this book, I didn’t always find it the easiest book to read. Following the thread and working out who was who took more effort than I like to spend when reading a work of fiction. Having said that, there were many fascinating insights, and if the reader is prepared to invest some effort then they will be rewarded.
The Concubine’s Child is published by Head of Zeus and printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group. My thanks to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review. I give it 3.5 stars.
This guest review was submitted by our Beauty and Lace Club member: Marcia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Marcia.