Reviewed by Alex C. Telander

The Opium Wars. You’ve likely heard about it in some shape or form, have some vague recollection that it involves China and the British Empire from long ago, and possibly you studied it a little in your class. What you probably didn’t know is that Britain’s evil, nefarious plan is to ensure they would have a continued supply of their precious tea by supplying and then addicting a nation to the devastating opium drug and leaving them with no recourse or chance of escape.

It is the mid-nineteenth century and Lady Su-Mei is our indomitable protagonist: stubborn from a young age, born into a culture and family where it is most important to follow tradition and protocol. From a very young age, she was to be subjected to the horrific but supposedly honorable practice of the agonizing foot-binding, which according to tradition is the only way she will be able to find a noble, rich, and upstanding husband worthy of her stature. But Su-Mei fights tooth and claw at every attempt by her parents and servants to be subjected to this horrible practice. As a punishment, she is sent to a convent to learn English from Pai Chu, who eventually comes to live with this family with the goal of spreading religion to Canton. Su-Mei’s father, Shao Lin, is one of the largest opium dealers in the region and soon runs into some serious trouble, setting Su-Mei on her own series of tumultuous events. 

Then there is Higgins, a man born in England who spends little time in his native country, traveling the world and working to ship opium for the British and make exorbitant amounts of money, following in the footsteps of Jardine and Matheson who have proven it is possible to be set for life in this trade and industry. In time, the stories of Higgins and Su-Mei will be brought together and interwoven, as the events—both tragic and adventurous—of the first opium war unfold. 

Robert Wang has written a debut novel that tells not just a compelling, enlightening, and riveting story but also a very educational one in the genre of historical fiction. In the style of James Clavell’s Shogun and Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, The Opium Lord’s Daughter balances the ongoing plot with the history and historical details to make a fascinating book that will be a pure delight to any fan of the genre, and especially to those looking to educate themselves about the Opium Wars and enjoy a good story at the same time.

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