published: 12th February 2019
spoilers? a couple
A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.
When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.
Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.
As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.
Galley provided by publisher
I think it’s safe to say The Night Tiger has cemented Yangsze Choo as one of my autoread authors. It’s a gorgeously written, slowburn of a mystery, and you’ll fall in love with the characters.
The plot follows three characters: Ren, a doctor’s houseboy, Ji Lin, a trainee seamstress and dancehall girl, and William Acton, an English doctor. We open the novel with Ren’s master, Doctor MacFarlane, on his deathbed entrusting him with the task of finding his missing finger. Which, you have to admit, is a pretty great start for any novel – it hooks you right in immediately. This finger is of the utmost importance, because if, after 49 days, MacFarlane is lain to rest without it his soul will wander the earth restlessly.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the way Yangsze Choo developed the mystery, slowly weaving together strands and bringing the characters closer to each other. As each little piece of the mystery was revealed, I got more and more excited about it, and more and more involved with the characters. It was the same as in The Ghost Bride. You get slowly drawn into the story until you can’t put it down and you would genuinely die for the characters. And then, right at the end, she pulls things you don’t see coming (I mean, I guessed one thing, but no way did I guess the other).
Another thing that Yangsze Choo does so well is creating and developing the relationships between all her characters. I mean, there was even one that is based on a concept I hate (which I’ll talk more about in a moment), but she had me rooting for it (to an extent). I loved each of the characters we got to see (even if I didn’t always like them), and I loved their interactions with the other characters and the relationships they held. She just has this knack of creating the perfect dynamics that I can’t help but love.
The (maybe-not-so) small issue I did have was with the romance. It was a similar dynamic to Er Lang and Li Lan, so obviously I was going to love it. I mean, kind of snarking/biting/not-entirely-friendly comments hiding something a bit more like love? That’s something I’m guaranteed to adore. But this time, it was between step-siblings. And I know, I know, not real siblings, not related, etc etc. But also, they had been brought up as brother and sister from the age of 10. And they were treated as brother and sister. As twins even. So, I was conflicted. Because I did love the dynamic and if it hadn’t been step-siblings I would have gone for it wholeheartedly. But they were step-siblings, so, while I still liked it (unexpectedly, and not wholly desiredly), I did have that fairly big reservation.
But, on the whole, I loved this book so much. It’s probably one of my favourite reads in January, possibly even the whole year (even after only one month). So, if you pick up a new author any time soon, pick up Yangsze Choo.