Hua Mu Yun is a cynical ex-soldier, damaged by the chaotic battles of China’s warlords era. Unable to stand human contact, he’s become a criminal, denying his more honorable past. Leng Ruo Fei is the spoiled and beautiful darling of the Peking Opera. Trained as a dan (female impersonator), his voice brings people to their knees. Adored by many but loved by none, Ruo Fei desperately wants to believe that real heroes–not fake ones–exist. Thrown together during a Triad attack on an opium den, Mu Yun and Ruo Fei must face their own demons as they begin to fall for each other. Can opera offer Mu Yun an escape from war-torn reality, or is a relationship between a gangster and a dan doomed to fail in a tragedy worthy of the stage?
Review by Erastes
This is a little jewel, (just under 19,000 words) small but just lovely. I haven’t enjoyed an ebook this much since Peridot by Parhelion. It’s very hard to do a review of it, in fact, as the size of it makes it difficult not to spoil the reader.
I often speak of “a safe pair of hands” – because readers can’t know every era and facts about every era – and Lorenz is (for my money) certainly that safe pair of hands. I know nothing about the era, or the economy of Peking or Shanghai of the time, and frankly it matters not a jot, because the writing convinces the reader (from the description of the hutongs, to the beautifully described clothes) that the author knows what they are on about. Once or twice a Chinese word was used (for food, for example) when I thought it was unnecessary (we are in China after all, and I’d have liked to know what those words meant)
It’s a multi-toned, multi-layered story, one that you could read on the surface and enjoy, or really delve into the psychology and enjoy it even more. Both characters are so beautifully written, brittle, fragile, with more barriers around them than China itself, that it broke my heart to read about them. Ruo Fei is delicious – a little bit redolent of Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Ned Kynaston in “Stage Beauty” which isn’t surprising as both are expert at portraying women on stage – a lotus blossom with reality issues and the problem that many rich/famous people have – the inablity to know whether he’d be loved for himself if he wasn’t the celebrity he is. Mu Yun has his ghosts and for tiny fraction of time he manages to escape them. It says a lot for the power of the writing that in such a small piece I was convinced, won over and hooked by these characters and wanted the best for them.
I didn’t like the italics and the tense changes used at the beginning and end, I thought they were unnecessary, and also I would have not complained if this had been a novella at the very least. There’s so much potential, backstory, so much we don’t see that Lorenz could have made this a novel. It doesn’t stop this concentrated version from being wonderful, though, so you wouldn’t be wasting the very little money it costs if you were to try it.