Wow is this book a mess and incredibly difficult to plod through. Reading like a tabloid version of a historical biography, it’s all sex, more sex, some random facts, a LOT of tangents, more sex, and then some cannibalism and horror. Those who have read David Jennings will likely feel right at home here: Cawthorne has gone to great lengths to find every gory or sex-related detail, from mating positions, how people were cooked/boiled/prepared, how toilet paper was constructed, dildos, to architecture. I felt like I was reading switching between pornography, horror , and then the driest historical text. And that would all be on the same page!
The book is loosely written in Wu Chen’s life’s chronological order but you can’t really tell because every paragraph goes off on a wild tangent that has little if nothing to do with Wu Chen. Each tangent is punctuated by something sexual in nature – there’s even whole chapters of nothing but graphic and detailed descriptions of how the concubines were prepared for the emperor. It got to be too much – I felt like I was given only salacious details meant to titillate rather than a grounded and informative historical biography.
When the description says this book is sensational, they don’t mean in a superlative sense. This is sensational for the point of shocking/titilating rather than educating; almost a throw back to the more graphic fiction of the 1970s. And that’s only if you can slog through random tangents of how a city was laid out, the entire antecedents of the latest emperor, what cities were built at the time and why, and how lavatories worked in the era. Talk about confusing, my eyes started to cross from all the random fairly unrelated facts. And I still never got a feel for the woman herself.
Not recommended for anyone. There has to be a better biography than this. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.