The Russian Concubine may have a romance theme, but it is also a historical fiction centering China's revolutionary stage during the 1920s, whereby there are protests and rage between the Communists and the Kuomintang Nationalists, with Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek as their leaders respectively.
Weaving together with this epic historical is a love story featuring a Russian girl and a Chinese youth. Lydia, together with her aristocratic mother, Valentina, are exiled from their country Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. All the men are not spared, including her father, and they were either being captured or killed. Lydia feared her father was dead, after being taken away by the Bolshevik army and they are then forced to take refuge in Junchow, China.
With no skills and knowledge of the Chinese language, Lydia feels like a fish out of water, but she's a survivor and most of all, she steals to make ends meet. She'd pawn away the things she has stolen and would lie to her mother about them, not wanting to worry her mother any further. It was by chance that fate allows her to meet a young Chinese Communist, Chang An Lo, on her way home after stealing a ruby necklace. He'd saved her from being caught, after all that necklace is both valuable and important and is to be presented as a gift to a diplomat's wife. Lydia couldn't stop thinking about Chang thereafter.
Chang An Lo, on the other hand, is mesmerised by the fiery foxy girl he'd saved that day. He felt she is courageous and unlike other foreign young women. However, their romance is threatened by the clash of the Communists and the Kuomintang Nationalists. And not to mention they are spies and bribery everywhere that one never feels safe, as there are also brotherhoods triads in the already chaotic Junchow. Some foreigners who live in the International Settlement are besieged by their own rivalries and revenges as well. Overall it was bad times.
Despite the grave theme, I was totally wowed by The Russian Concubine. It is an epic historical story which is rich with ethnic cultures, in particularly to the Chinese. Set in pre-revolutionary China, this story tells the journey of Lydia's escapades from Russia to China, and how she survives living in a foreign country with limited skills and language. The relationship between Valentina and Lydia, as well as Valentina's affair further add intrigue to the story.
What I also liked about this story is the intertwining of history and romance. Both have interesting elements that kept me interested throughout the story; the history wasn't too dry or boring and the romance wasn't cheesy either. I think it is a well balanced read. There is a sequel to this book and The Concubine's Secret is definitely onto my to-read list.
Here's my thoughts on Kate Furnivall's The White Pearl, (the first book I read by her) which I thought was good too.