Book Review: Dragon Springs Road
Synopsis: From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai — a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate near Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the haunted courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother, Jialing grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, guided by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past. But she finds herself drawn into a murder at the periphery of political intrigue, a relationship that jeopardizes her friendship with Anjuin and a forbidden affair that brings danger to the man she loves.
My review: 3 stars.
Dragon Springs Road is essentially a coming of age novel set in early 20th century China– a time period that I know little about, though this book didn’t entirely have me searching for more information or googling events or people.
The major themes of growing up and learning about what matters in life, identity, and overcoming societal stereotypes and biases are clear throughout the novel as Jialing struggles to make her way in the world as an orphan and mixed-race girl. It was about way more than just finding her mother, but also about what a person may be willing (or unwilling to do) for love, friendship, money, status, education, and so on. With those things in mind, I wanted the book to be so much more in these areas, especially as Jialing became an adult and was finding her way in the world.
There is a huge element of Chinese folklore and mysticism in the book with the Fox character, who plays an important role in Jialing’s life from her childhood. This part of the book was interesting to me, but I also found I was often lost in the details of those encounters between Jialing and Fox. This might say more about my ability to suspend practicalities while reading and less about the author’s writing and the role of Fox within the story.
Not knowing a ton about this time period in Chinese history– really about a lot of Chinese history in general– was one of the reason I wanted to read the book as I look to expand my literary horizons. I found myself more interested in the brief insights into missionaries in China during this time period more than anything else, and after reading the author’s notes at the back of the book, understand that this was some of her original intent for the book. Had I not read that it would have seemed more random for this part of the storyline, but it makes sense to me now.
As part of the TLC Book Tour of this book, I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.