Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
When Lan’xiu was born, his mother made the choice to give him a female name and raise him as a girl to protect him from his older brother, Wu Min. Lan embraced his life as much as he could, and in fact prefers to dress as a woman. But when his older brother discovers his secret, he sends Lan as a gift to a well placed lord and general to be a part of the harem. Lan has no choice in the matter, and he knows once the general learns the truth, he will be put to death. He is resigned to his fate.
General Qiang Hui Wei knows that Wu Min has sent gifts as a part of some sinister plot, though he doesn’t yet know what. For a time, he ignores his newest concubine knowing word will get around. Once Hui finally goes to Lan’xiu, he quickly learns the truth. Betrayed, he and Lan duel. But Lan is a master swordsmen and though he cannot beat Hui, the fight brings unexpected desires to the fore, and Hui claims Lan’xiu as his own and decides to spare Lan’xiu’s life.
As Hui Wei is doing his best to come to terms with his desires for a man, Lan’xiu is settling in. With the help of his trusted friend and servant, the eunuch Ning, Lan’xiu continues to live his life as a woman. He even becomes friends with the other wives of Hui Wei’s house. However, there are dark machinations afoot. When the tragedy strikes at the hands of one of the wives, it sets into motion a series of events that will have Hui and Lan’xiu admitting the depth of their love and devotion, but testing their bond all the same.
For the Around The World Challenge in Reading Challenge Month, I went looking for a book that would push my boundaries. I wanted something different than my usual fair, and that seemed like it would embrace what this challenge week was about. When I found the Last Concubine, I knew I’d stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for. And this book more than lived up to the challenge. Ford does a great job immersing the reader in feudal China, into the machinations of warlords striving to keep the peace in their territories, and describing life in a rich household. I was transported back in time and to a different country, and I was so pleased at how well this aspect was done.
I’m going to also mention here that this is one of Dreamspinner’s Timeless Dreams titles, and that means that the book is not historically accurate in regards to the romance. Of course, a love like this could never have survived as easily and as perfectly as it did in the story. There was a downplay of any stigma attached to a same sex relationship, but it was believably done, as if this story takes place in a step outside time.
In addition to the wonderful sense of place, Ford gave us some great characters. Lan’xiu was particularly well drawn. Yes, his mother chose a female name and persona for her son to keep him safe, but it fits perfectly with the man he is. He likes dresses and feeling pretty, and he is comfortable portraying himself as a woman, but there is no doubt that he is a gay man. I found Lan to embody aspect of being gender fluid, and I loved seeing him be so comfortable in himself. His relationship with his friend and servant, Ning, is fantastic. Their banter is wonderful, and it’s clear how much they love one another. Through Ning we got to see a whole other side to Lan that gave him real depth. In fact, the author does a good job throughout the story using secondary characters to show us the depth of the MCs.
Hui Wei is well-drawn as well. Though we didn’t get to know him quite as well, I liked what we did see. Hui has some struggles as he comes to grip with his desire for a man. I liked seeing him work it out, for himself, and to see him confide in his best friend. This leant a believable air to the whole thing. And I really liked that when Hui was ready, he was all in, no holds barred. His love for Lan’xiu just leapt off the page and the MCs had insane chemistry.
I did find that there were parts of this story that seemed too predictable for my liking however. There were a few small plot points that were resolved too easily, and another that made its intention know from the very start. I won’t dissect them, as the story is better served if you find them out as you read along, but it did bring things down a little bit for me. I was waiting for a twist that didn’t materialize. It wasn’t a huge deal, and I still enjoyed the story a great deal, but I would have liked a little less invisibility and a bit more intrigue. The other area where I wanted a bit more development was the beginning of Lan’xiu’s and Hui’s love. Their connection was strong and palpable, but I needed something a little more to believe the depth of their love after one night. After I jumped on board though, their sweeping romance completely swept me up.
So I definitely enjoyed this story. The characterization and setting pulled me in, and absorbed me into the story. I loved watching the relationship unfold, and all the side plots and secondary characters truly enhanced the tale. If it at all sounds interesting to you, definitely give it a try.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for Around the World Challenge Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from Riptide Publishing. One lucky winner will receive a selection of print Advanced Review Copies of Riptide books before they are even released (non-US winners will get ebook copies upon release instead). Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Around the World Challenge Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.
I definitely will read this one even though it’s not historically correct. Thanks for a great rec.
The author makes it believable, even if it’s not exactly accurate. Hope you enjoy!
I cannot recall the last story I read set in China (historical or contemporary). The Last Concubine sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing your review.
The fact that it was set in China was really want sold me on the story in the first place. 🙂
I have had this book on my kindle for a long time, after reading your review I am moving it up on my TBR list.
Excellent news! I hop you like it!
I have had this book in my wish list for a while, so appreciate your thoughts on it. I often anticipate twists and turns in a story where none actually come to pass, so thanks for that warning.
I had as well, and I was glad for the opportunity to read it. And I hear ya on the twists. Same happens to me.
I also have had this book on my list for a while. Thanks for the review and sort of reminding me about it
If you get the chance, definitely read it. Hope you enjoy it!
Thanks for the review! I loved this book! I read it years ago and I re-read it a few weeks ago when I went through a Catt Ford-phase (A Strong Hand is another favorite of mine). I love historial but I usuañly don’t read books that the setting is Japan or China.
Exactly! The setting was what made me want to read it, perhaps more than anything else, but I enjoyed the whole thing so much.
I remember being really impressed with this story when I read it…the descriptions were so evocative!
Oh, that’s a great descriptor for the, well, descriptions! Evocative is right.
I don’t often come across m/m romances set in China and I love historical romances (also far too few to choose from for m/m) – so I’ll definitely give this one a try.
I agree with all of that! Glad you’re up for giving this one a try.
I’m pretty sure I have this one in my TBR as well. I’ll have to try to remember to pull it out & read it sooner rather than later. Thanks for the review.
You’re welcome! And I sincerely hope you have a chance to read it soon.
I’m definitely intrigued by the gender-fluid aspects. I shall be adding this to my wishlist! thanks for the review!
Lan’xiu definitely blurs the lines, and does it while feeling so comfortable in his skin. One of the parts I liked the best about it. 😀
This one is definitely going on my TBR. The review is so interesting that I went to Amazon to get it. While I was there I
read some of the reviews and noticed that Erastes gave it 4 stars. Thanks! 🙂
I’m so glad you picked it up! Enjoy!
I read this when it first came out. I enjoyed it very much, the descriptions of “historical” China drawing me in. Recommend this one, it is very good.
I thought so as well! Thanks Theresa!
I haven’t read this one yet. I had planned to a few years ago but never got to it.
Hope you’ll get a chance soon. 🙂
I really like Catt Ford’s writing and this is one I really enjoyed. I think your review captures the highlights very well. The characters are the strongest point, and yes, I definitely got swept up in the romance. I don’t know enough about the time and setting to be able to say if she hit the mark, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one either.
Absolutely. I loved the “fairy tale sweep you off your feet” feel of it! 🙂
I’m going to have to read this one. Both the setting and characters sound so intriguing. Thanks for the review!
You’re welcome and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
This is one of my favorite reread books. I seldom read historical set in China, but I used to watch Chinese period dramas. This one reminded me of those. Concubines’ intrigue and backstabbing, the ever-suffering main character, and then the war. Difference is, those dramas often ended with tragedy while this one has a HEA. Good story indeed.
yes yes, to all of that! You captured it Theo.
This sounds really good. I think I have not read any M/M romance set in China yet, and The Last Concubine seems to be the perfect one to be my first. Thank you for the excellent review, Kris.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did Susana! Thank you!
Actually, that sounds like I might enjoy this one quite a bit – thank you for the in-depth review.
And truthfully, the “lack of a twist” is a huge plus for me, as that is one thing I hate the most in some books – the ‘twist ending’ that spoils the entire book and makes me throw it across the room in disgust. Yes, I’m often the person in the bookstore who’s reading the ending first to make sure there is no nasty surprises (death/betrayal/rape/bait n’ switch/control/etc). And one thing that’s very hard for me in ebooks – you CAN’T pick it up and check out the ending 🙁 So, I’m often searching many, many, many review sites, TRYING to find SOMEONE who talks about the ending/ or things they liked/disliked. Because the whole ‘its so excellent’ reviews tell me nothing at all.
I’m with ya, Annette, on the twists that seem to negate the work of the book, that throw the entire story out the window. I definitely dislike those kinds.
Here, I meant that it felt like, at times, it was building toward a twist that would work within the story, but when it didn’t happen it felt like a let down. However, predictability definitely works for me on a lot of levels, and I enjoyed that I had no doubt about the way things would end up. And the characters were amazing.
Enjoy if you get a chance to read it!
Love your review on this book, you have me very intrigued. I will have to look into it 🙂
Thanks Angela! I hope you decide to give it a try!
Thanks for the review! I don’t generally read historicals but i might have to pick this one up!
I’m not huge on historicals either, Lira, but this one works. If you’re interested, I’d say give it a try.
I loved this book and have reread it a number of times. It is my favourite of the Catt Ford books I have read and I really don’t mind that it may be historically inaccurate. The characters make it for me as well as the HEA.
Yes, all of this! I so agree Lynne!