THE OPIUM LORD’S DAUGHTER
The Opium Lord’s Daughter, LLC (2019)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (09/2020)
“The Opium Lord’s Daughter” tells the story of Su-Mei. She is the first daughter and oldest child of Lee Shao Lin, one of the largest and most influential opium traders in China. We first meet the spirited heroine as a 4-year-old girl, when she bucks against her father’s strict expectations and society’s conventions and refuses to have her feet bound like other good little noble girls. Even as a child, she knows that she doesn’t want the size of her feet, or the whims of the men in her life, to control her life. Instead, she wants to forge her own path. When she is 17 years old, Su-Mei is sent to a convent as a punishment by her father for turning away a potential husband. Instead of squalor and dread, however, Su-Mei finds her time at the convent to be the most stimulating of her short life. She makes a new friend, learns startling truths about the world outside her family’s estate, and finds herself attracted to a life devoted to serving God. She also meets English sailor Travers Higgins, who introduces Su-Mei to the wonders of true, all-encompassing love.
“The Opium Lord’s Daughter” is told from multiple perspectives, which allows readers to understand both the Chinese and English attitudes toward the opium trade. It is obvious that Wang spent an extensive amount of time researching the history of this period. The book is filled with accurate and informative historical recollections that lend the story an extra hint of credibility. This will go a long way toward drawing in readers who may typically only read nonfiction. The story is engrossing enough to keep readers turning the pages, while also constantly instilling new information and facts into their minds, as well.
The story has a bit of a slow build up toward the beginning, but after the first 100 pages the action really starts adding up and the book flows more urgently, yet consistently. The further I got into the book, the harder I found it was to put down. There are certainly some hard lessons learned by Su-Mei in the book as the watches her father being arrested and her family destroyed. Some images may be distressing for some readers, such as the descriptions of punishment used by the Chinese government after Su-Mei’s father and another opium dealer is caught, but for the most part this is a book that can be enjoyed by most anyone who is a fan of historical fiction. Those looking for a quick, simple, lighthearted read, however, may find the themes and troves of historical information to be a bit tedious.
“The Opium Lord’s Daughter” sheds light on an important period of global history that, unfortunately, does not seem to get as much time in the spotlight as it should. The period of the opium wars had drastic impacts on global trade and international relations between the Orient and West, some of which can still be felt today. Su-Mei’s tragic experience during the first opium war, which cost Su-Mei her family, her best friend, and the love of her life, is surely reminiscent of countless other Chinese citizens during the mid-19th century. “The Opium Lord’s Daughter” provides a scintillating account of the beginning of the First Opium War, and Wang uses the voice of a powerful young heroine to share it.