The China Bride
by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2001)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00589-5


Ooh, a romance set in China as well as England. And I must say a big thank you to the author for not depicting the Chinese as fortune-cookie-quote-sprouting old buffoons or silent, mysterious kung-fu masters. You know what? Not a single "You must go seek mountains in east, see heron fly and learn way of tiger in fight, know heart, win big" nonsense, no seductive buxom Chinese harlot out to seduce our British hero, no other hackneyed Chinese stereotypes either. Just wonderful.

Anyway, the plot. Half-Scottish, half-Chinese heroine Troth Mei-Lian Montgomery (what kind of name is that - does her parents want her to be ocstracized by her peers forever?) is trained to be her government officer uncle's spy and translator after her parents' death. One day, Uncle asks her to spy on one Kyle Renbourne, a British, pro-American man who is affiliated with an American trade company. It is 1832, and China is slowly opening its gates to international trade, but they remain suspicious of the foreigners. Kyle has no idea at first that "Jing Kang" is a woman, but when he does, sparks fly. Troth escorts our hero to visit the temple of Hoshan. Foreigners are not allowed to do this, but Troth helps Kyle nonetheless, with dire results.

The story opens with Troth coming to England to inform Kyle's twin brother (hero in The Wild Child) of Kyle's death. The story then shifts from present to past with ease, creating an interesting and rivetting read. I love Kyle, a broody, melancholic hero and I love Troth too, a heroine who doesn't know how to fit in. Their road trip to Hoshan is sweet, funny, tender all at once.

Then Kyle returns to England too. You really believe he's dead? Now things get sticky. Troth and Kyle married in China, and now both parties just have to start believing that each must withdraw from the marriage because this is surely what the other wants. Excuse me, but what happened to these two? I want that romantic Troth and Kyle back. Rewind, rewrite, whatever, but I don't like these two self-absorbed, mourny, broody martyrs at all. Hence the last third of The China Bride is a snore.

I have some minor quibbles with the author's depiction of Troth. No, I'm not going to nitpick, but Troth acts Chinese when she is in England and vice-versa. What I'm saying is, she goes on and on about wanting love when she is in China. But when she is in England, she starts acting like a submissive, silent China doll. Her reticence only cause Kyle to get all the wrong ideas about guilt, love, and romance, martyr hero style, and more hurt and suffering on her part. Oh, Troth, you do bring all this on yourself, really.

And also, I'm amused that the author talks about Kyle getting all aghast at the way Chinese women are treated as burdens. Err... he's British, isn't he? The women there aren't any more free than Chinese women, really. Only a Chinese head wife has probably more power than a British wife.

Still, at least two-thirds of The China Bride (discounting the flash-to-the-present chapters where all Troth does is to weep, weep, weep, eek) is fun and effective romance in a land rarely explored in romance novels, although I must say I am disappointed that the author goes wishy-washy about religion (just what is Troth's faith anyway?). It's just too bad that TCB fumbles when it comes to the emotional pay-off towards the end.

Rating: 81


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