Forgive me if this review seems pulled in two directions; that’s the way White Tigress by Jade Lee made me feel. It kind of gave me the creeps, and I wasn’t too sure about the happily-ever-after. However, it definitely has some moments of brilliance. There’s only one thing I can say for sure: if you don’t like forced seduction under any circumstances, you do not want to read White Tigress.
I knew Lydia Smith was in trouble on this book’s very first page. It is 1897, and the young, sheltered Englishwoman has traveled all the way to Shanghai, in order to surprise her fiancé, Maxwell Slade. Has any such decision ever worked out well for any heroine? Sure enough, Lydia is abducted before she can make contact with Max. An enigmatic Chinese man, Cheng Ru Shan, buys her and – not to put too fine a point on it – makes her his sex slave.
Ru Shan has been trying for years to enter the realm of the immortals, using a combination of Taoism, sex, and iron self control. But he’s not making much progress in his studies, so his mentor, Shi Po, advises him to buy Lydia and partake of her yin energy. Ru Shan apparently has too much fire in his nature, and Shi Po says that Lydia is a watery individual who will balance him nicely.
It takes some time before Ru Shan gains Lydia’s outward cooperation, and when she does appear to submit, she is plotting escape and vengeance. Ru Shan gradually initiates Lydia into a number of sexual practices that are designed to tap her yin for his use. Lydia resists, but her innate sensuality is awakened and she soon finds herself unwillingly craving Ru Shan’s caress.
Make no mistake, this is an incredibly hot read. Ru Shan’s motives are not mere sensual pleasure but something higher than that; he does not seek to attain his own release and seems pretty much uninterested in Lydia’s as well. The yin-building exercises he performs with Lydia are essentially one long foreplay session that extends over several weeks (and the entire first half of the book). Lydia is never raped, but her senses are thoroughly, unwillingly ravished.
And that made me uncomfortable. There’s a scene in which Lydia screams and struggles while Ru Shan wrestles her to the bed, ties her up, and touches her until she’s limp with pleasure. It’s a powerful erotic fantasy, but I find it a disturbing one. Lydia may have experienced ecstasy with Ru Shan, but her spirit was violated, and I couldn’t quite reconcile myself to that.
Something else that skeeved me out is this: one of the things keeping Ru Shan from reaching immortality is his conflicted feelings about his mother’s death. Fair enough – but since his way of reaching immortality is through sex, that means he’s experiencing disturbing memories about his mother during sex. That’s unusual and, let’s face it, kind of strange.
I should mention that I have no idea whether Ru Shan’s pursuit of immortality through sex has anything to do with actual Taoism or zen Buddhism (confusingly, in the material she includes with the book the author refers to Ru Shan’s sexual practices as a type of zen Buddhism). Lee adds that even many Chinese find Ru Shan’s techniques questionable, which may have been a way of covering up a little artistic license on her part; I just don’t know. I do know that one of the central tenets of both Buddhism and Taoism is compassion, which is not an outstanding feature of Ru Shan’s treatment of Lydia in the first half of the book.
Halfway through the book, Lydia turns the tables on Ru Shan. I loved this part of the book. For the first time Lydia is shown to be intelligent and strong, and she has a plan to get her way, not only from Ru Shan, but also from her fiancé Max, who turns out to be a highly believable Victorian male idiot. This middle portion of the book, which shows Lydia getting a little of her own back, was easily A+ material for me.
It is all too brief. The remainder of the book hinges upon the fact that, at some point in the first half of the novel, Lydia fell in love with Ru Shan. His bedroom technique is admittedly impressive, but love under these circumstances? Well, maybe. Ru Shan does come to understand and regret what he did, and does his best to make amends, but fate still has some surprises in store for our couple. The final portion of this book isn’t quite convincing in a romantic sense, but it is very exciting. I may not have been sighing with the romance of it all, but I was riveted to the page nevertheless.
So how to sum all of this up? White Tigress is extremely erotic, with only its rather metaphoric language keeping me from giving it a Burning sensuality rating; but even though I was affected by this, I was also uncomfortable with it. The plot and setting are certainly interesting and unusual. The heroine is sympathetic but the hero is not; he is, however, intriguing and charismatic enough to almost make up for it.
If you are looking for a sexy and different book, and don’t mind a little coercion thrown into the mix, you might really enjoy this book more than I did. I think that White Tigress is most effective as a work of erotic adventure, rather than romance. Also, please note this caveat: the last time I felt this conflicted about a novel, it was written by Robin Schone. That, I imagine, will be all the recommendation – and all the warning – that most readers need.