This is the second of Clavell’s ‘Asian Saga’, but doesn’t have any immediately obvious relation to Shogun (that comes in book three, apparently), other than being in that no-man’s land of historical novels that has characters based off of actual people without actually meaning to be them. This isn’t nearly as grating to me here, as I don’t really know anything about the founding of Hong Kong, and the people involved, while I was very aware of several of the not-quite principles of Shogun.

As before, Clavell’s writing style is quite good, but I think the structure suffers a bit. Straun has certain specific goals, that are repeatedly challenged through the book. These are generally taken care of one after another without them really piling on, or adding to, one another, making the plot a bit more of a series of connected incidents where targets are knocked down one after another in a shooting gallery. Worse, the one that generally feels the most intractable, immediate, and generates the main action scenes of the book is very early, leaving the rest feeling a little more limp.

While the broad strokes of history are certainly accurate (opium trade, and all the reasons why), are well presented at the beginning, he doesn’t spend a lot of time in a detailed delve into Chinese culture, so you don’t get the travelogue feel of Shogun. What you do get is a large cast of characters all with their own quirks and motivations moving across a somewhat compressed landscape. This is his main strength, and it pays off well, even if the desire to introduce them all at the start does give the book a slow start. The end… has it’s own brand of action, and brings things to good closing point, but feels a bit arbitrary, and hand of god author. It’s meant to be an epic, and so is mostly a slow burn all the way through, but is a very consistent and satisfying one. If the general subject is of interest, or you’ve liked his other books, certainly read this one.