For the month of March, we are to read a “Historical romance or fiction or mystery” and my choice is the sequel to Empress Orchid by Anchee Min, which I read for another TBR challenge some three years ago. My fascination with history doesn’t just stop at wars, knights, and myths. A large part of the curiosity has to do with the roles women play in those olden days. Take the rare few female monarchs for example, Queen Elizabeth, Wu Ze Tian, Cleopatra, and the controversial Empress Cixi (Tzu Hsi), the kind of power play, politics and sacrifices they were inevitably drawn into sure make them intriguing figures to study.
The Last Empress, written in first person, traces the trials and heartaches the young widowed Empress Cixi experienced in trying to raise her young son, the heir to a doomed kingdom which has barely recovered from a damaging Opium War with several power hungry European nations.
Now, in our part of the world, Cixi has always been portrayed, in drama, movies and TV serials, as a stern, insecure matriarch who refused to cede authority and government of the country over to her sons, first Emperor Tung Chih, and then Guang Hsu.