White Tigress by Jade Lee
(Dorchester, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-5393-4
Jade Lee’s White Tigress is easily the most challenging book I’ve reviewed to date. The heroine-being-drugged-and-sold scenario isn’t one I find romantic, and it results in some definite “ick” moments. But Lee’s layered story and depiction of China and kept me reading until 2:30 AM.

A few months after her father’s death, Englishwoman Lydia Smith goes to China in search of her fiancé, Maxwell Slade. She asks someone to take her to Max; instead, she is drugged and taken to a brothel. Then she’s sold to a man who doesn’t want her virginity—he wants her yin. The man is Ru Shan Cheng, and he’s the hero.

Ru Shan’s goal is to achieve immortality:

“It is the work of the tigress to build a man’s fire, then stop it from flowing outward. This takes much focus and control on the man’s part, but with practice, it can be directed upward, to the mind. If enough yang and yin combine, that energy will flow upward launching him into immortality.”

A student of Taoism, he follows the advice of a woman who assures him that drawing out Lydia’s yin will help him become balanced. This process involves considerable touching and caressing.

If this sounds creepy to you, well . . . you’d be right. The scenario is creepy, so consider yourself warned. If I had not been reading this book for review, I’m not sure I would have gotten past the first few chapters. Once I did, however, I found myself engrossed in Lee’s depiction of the exotic culture.

White Tigress works best as a fascinating metaphor with Ru Shan and Lydia representing clashing cultures. In fact, I can’t imagine any other setting where this story would have worked. Each has preconceived ideas about what it means to be Chinese and English. They start with mutual anger, distrust, and condescension. As the story continues, both characters come to realize their flawed thinking. Ru Shan’s changing beliefs from start to finish were particularly intriguing. Still, his actions at the beginning of the story make it difficult to fully embrace him as a hero.

Like Ru Shan, Lydia evolves as a character. She starts out being naïve and develops strength and understanding through her journey. Part of this journey occurs with Ru Shan while another part involves her fiancé. In the end, she and Ru Shan have a more equal relationship, although readers are likely to disagree about how equal it really is.

Ultimately, White Tigress doesn’t entirely succeed as a romance, though it includes some romantic moments. This story may not be a comfortable read, but it’s certainly a compelling one.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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