Book Review: The White Mirror by Elsa Hart

White Mirror Elsa Hart

The White Mirror by Elsa Hart

 

This is the second book in Elsa Hart’s Li Du mystery series. Disclaimer: I did not read her first book: Jade Dragon Mountain before reading this one. However, The White Mirror stands alone enough that the book is quite enjoyable by itself.

The story takes place in China in 1708. We find Li Du, former librarian of the Forbidden City, traveling with a caravan through the high mountain passes that separate China from Tibet. As the weather sets in and the caravan is beset by a snow storm, they find themselves traversing a bridge to an isolated estate, and the only shelter for miles around. On the bridge a monk sits waiting. It is only when the party draws close that they can see the monk is dead, his face painted with pagan symbols, and his hand still gripping the knife that has ripped open his belly. Over the next several days, while the caravan and other travelers are snowed in together at the remote estate, it falls to Li Du to unravel the mystery of the dead monk.

Elsa Hart writes a good, evenly paced mystery. The setting is compelling. You can almost hear the snow crunch under the characters shoes, and you can imagine the vast and almost otherworldly beauty that the mountainous borders of China must have to offer. The characters are varied in their motivations and several good suspects come to our attention throughout the book. This is also a mystery written in a way I personally find satisfying: the clues are all there. As the reader you are aware of everything Li Du is. The mystery, when solved, is solidly based on what came before, not seemingly pulled out of the ether at the last second. Additionally, Hart does a good job of disguising what is important, with no overdone advertisement of the clues.

In all, this is an enjoyable mystery in a fabulous setting. I find myself intrigued enough that I will more than likely go back and read the first novel in the series.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Minotaur Books, in exchange for an honest review. The White Mirror is scheduled for release on September 6th, 2016.

 

 

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride By Yangsze Choo

5 out of 5 Stars

I started this book expecting it to be one thing, then it spun around on me and went in a completely unexpected direction, and I definitely enjoyed the ride!

Li Lan, an impoverished but genteel Chinese girl living in Malaya, receives an offer of marriage–to a dead man. The man’s wealthy family,are seeking a bride to help his soul rest in peace, an arrangement the dire financial straits of Li Lan’s family makes hard to resist. But resist she does, and Li Lan soon finds herself haunted by the dead man, the barrier between the living and the dead becoming thinner and thinner around her.

This is the start of the book: a well researched historical fiction, with a supernatural twist that somehow feels natural to the plot. However, within a a few chapters, catastrophe strikes for Li Lan, and even this unusual pairing can no longer contain the story. I suddenly found myself immersed in a murder mystery/ghost story that jumps between planes of existence and across the barrier of life and death. This description might make you think the book is chaotic, but the author beautifully weaves everything together into an interesting and original shape.

The characters in this book stand out for being superbly written. Their flaws, hopes, and dreams seem real and believable. I greatly enjoyed the repartee between the heroine, Li Lan, and her occasionally unwilling companion, Er Lang. My difficulty in this review is that I am loathe to tell too much of the plot, as one of the highlights of this book was the joy and surprise of following the story as it unfolds.

In all, a well-written and enjoyable book. If you don’t mind a bit of a ghost story with your historical fiction, or a bit of a monster movie in your mystery, this is a great book for you. The author brings colonial Malaya to life (and afterlife) in this book with vivid, accurate detail. Her use of Chinese and Malayan beliefs and superstition is glorious and well used in the plot. I would love to see a sequel on the horizon!