“White Tiger” by Kelly Chan

I was very excited by the premise of this book, and there a number of things that I really enjoyed about it. I have an entirely amateur interest in Chinese culture (and Asian/Pacific culture in general) and enjoy books and movies featuring it. On that level, this book was very satisfying: there are detailed descriptions of life in Hong Kong, Chinese mythology, martial arts and meditation, and the characters’ travels around Hong Kong, mainland China, and Australia. So I really enjoyed that part of the book.

The basic plot is cliched and yet also has a lot of promise as a storyline (the reason literary cliches are cliches is because they work!). An Australian woman starts working as a nanny for a wealthy Chinese widower, discovers that he’s more than he seems, forbidden, impossible love, etc. etc….as I said, it’s a cliched plot, but everyones likes a good tale of forbidden, impossible love, and the cross-cultural component is a nice twist. However, I could never get into either of the characters enough to really care about their love. John Chen is a perfectly nice guy and in real life I’d probably like him a lot too, but for me he’s lacking in that edge that a good romantic hero needs. Emma is supposed to be “tough” and “cold-blooded,” but we mostly see that by the way she stamps her little feet and tries to boss the other characters around. She’s supposed to be an empowered/empowering female character, but she’s fallen into the cliche that for me DOESN’T work of the essentially powerless woman (younger, no money, no social position, not much ambition, fairly ordinary accomplishments (although she ACTUALLY has all this hidden talent, she just doesn’t use it much and requires a man to bring it out in her), good-looking in a girl-next-door kind of way) who captures the heart of an extraordinary man with her empty threats and platitudes of independence. This for me was the biggest problem in the story, although given how popular this character type is, lots of other readers may find it attractive.

Final summary: A good read from the Chinese-culture point-of-view (and it warms my heart to see a fantasy/paranormal romance based on Chinese culture), but flawed from the point of view of characterization and romantic tension.

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