If you’re looking for something different in historical romance, Jade Lee’s Tempted Tigress is certainly that. Set during the Boxer movement at the very end of the Qing Dynasty, the story features the romance between a white drug runner and the Emperor’s Enforcer. It is a gritty story that does not gloss over the turbulent, depressing, and violent interactions between the Chinese government and the Western opium trade. For that reason, I recommend it to anyone looking for an emotionally challenging love story.
Anna Marie Thompson is a drug running opium addict. She’s also one of the best in China, which is why she is hunted by Zhi-Gang, the Emperor’s Enforcer and a man given carte blanche to do anything needed to stamp out the opium trade within China. Zhi-Gang knows the first time he sees Anna that she has the power to change his life and he wants her dead. In order to escape immediate death, Anna is miraculously saved by becoming Zhi-Gang’s wife, which basically gives him leeway to kill her whenever he finds it most convenient.
Zhi-Gang is a complicated character. As the Enforcer, he has killed many in order to rid China of opium and, in addition to being steeped in the blood of those he’s killed, he suffers because of a lost love who died as a result of an opium addiction. He’s also carrying around a little dark secret of his own. As he spends more time with Anna, he hates the things that she’s done and how she’s lived her life, yet he realizes she’s not had a choice. One of the many abuses he longs to correct deals with the treatment of Chinese women, who he sees as suffering the greatest burdens of Chinese society. Since drugs are often traded for girls, Anna and Zhi-Gang make a deal to work together to catch a major drug runner. If she helps him, he’ll help her to flee China.
This novel is not intended for light reading. The issues of addiction, murder, and prostitution are dealt with in vivid detail. Lee paints a truly sad picture of Anna’s craving for opium and what she has done in the past to obtain the drug. Zhi-Gang kills those he catches involved with drugs in any way – something that is described in cold-blooded detail – and while his actions are heroic, he is certainly not a hero in the traditional sense. The issue of prostitution (often with young girls) is dealt with and is disturbing, yet it fits well within the story that Lee tells. The author also tackles the issue of an interracial relationship in a time of immense xenophobia, but she does so in a way that allows the reader to see all sides of the issue.
Despite the violence of the story and a smattering of purple prose (some dragon and pearl analogies made me giggle), Tempted Tigress is certainly a book I would recommend to those looking for a emotionally charged and different type of historical romance.