Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Concubine Saga by Lloyd Lofthouse: A Book Review

My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart combined into:
The Concubine Saga
by Lloyd Lofthouse

Publisher: Three Clover Press
Category: Historical Fiction
Tour Dates: June, 2012
Available in Print and Kindle, 621 Pages

This is one of my favorite types of story--the story of a stranger in a strange land.  Robert Hart, barely 20 in the mid 1850s travels from Ireland where he'd been one of a dozen children of a Wesleyan pastor to work for the British consulate in China.  There his open heart and deep curiosity caused him to develop respect for this culture so unlike his own.  It wasn't long before he was gravitating to living and thinking like a Chinese man.  

He took two concubines--sisters who could not bear to be separated--and studied the Mandarin language and literature and the history and philosophy and religions of this ancient civilization. The elder of the sisters, Ayaou,and he are deeply in love and eventually have children together. At first he grappled intensely with his Victorian scruples, consumed by guilt over his growing attraction to the younger sister with whom he tried to maintain a brotherly sensibility. But with the sisters themselves insisting on his treating them equally he eventually succumbed if only to preserve the household harmony. 

Later Robert becomes Inspector General of China's Customs service and an indispensable aide to the Emperor, guiding him as he ushers his people into the modern industrial age, introducing the railroad, telegraph and Western postal and school systems. 

There were times, especially in the early chapters, when the story had more the flavor of a documentary than a novel, dwelling on the minutia of new things Robert encountered in his first year in China.  These are rendered vivid and immediate but one could almost hear Robert's observations as voice overs in a film made by his eyes which had the effect of distancing as of putting a pane of glass between the reader and the scenes.  

But once he encounters Ayaou the story develops an intimacy and complexity as their love blossoms and his heart opens not just to her but to her culture and his slow transformation from a self-involved youth into a man indispensable to two nations begins.

Publisher Blurb:

No Westerner has ever achieved Robert Hart’s status and level of power in China. Driven by a passion for his adopted country, Hart became the “godfather of China’s modernism”, inspector general of China’s Customs Service, and the builder of China’s railroads, postal and telegraph systems and schools.
However, his first real love is Ayaou, a young concubine. Sterling Seagrave, in Dragon Lady, calls her Hart’s sleep-in dictionary and says she was wise beyond her years.
Soon after arriving in China in 1854, Hart falls in love with Ayaou, but his feelings for her sister go against the teachings of his Christian upbringing and almost break him emotionally. To survive he must learn how to live and think like the Chinese. He also finds himself thrust into the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, the bloodiest rebellion in human history, where he makes enemies of men such as the American soldier of fortune known as the Devil Soldier.
During his early years in China, Robert experiences a range of emotion from bliss to despair. Like Damascus steel, he learns to be both hard and flexible, which forges his character into the great man he becomes.
In time, an ancient empire will rely on him to survive, and he will become the only foreigner the Emperor of China trusts.
Full of humanity, passion, and moral honesty, The Concubine Saga is the deeply intimate story of Hart’s loyalty and love for his adopted land and the woman who captured his heart.
“My Splendid Concubine” was the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
In the sequel, “Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine”, he was the only foreigner the Emperor of China trusted.
Both novels have come together as one in “The Concubine Saga”.

What They are Saying:

“Lofthouse believes Hart was motivated to destroy his papers not out of shame but out of privacy: ‘What he had with Ayaou was something special he wanted to keep to himself. I don’t think he would approve of My Splendid Concubine … but we live in a different age than Victorian England. I feel that this love story deserves to be told.’ ”- Anneli Rufus , East Bay Express

“My Splendid Concubine is packed cover to cover with intriguing characters and plot, a must read for historical fiction fans and a fine addition to any collection on the genre.” Midwest Book Review

” For me, really, My Splendid Concubine is a love story that is rich with Chinese culture. I found the novel fascinating. It is beautifully written and so rich in details of the Chinese culture. Before this novel I did not know who Robert Hart was. I must thank Lloyd Lofthouse for this novel as now I feel I’ve been acquainted with a great man from history. One who respected and loved women and fought to make things better. I’ve also been introduced to many aspects of the Chinese culture that I didn’t know and I really enjoyed that. This was a really good novel for me and I was sorry to see it end.”- Darlene, Peeking Between the Pages

“As Historical Fiction books go, this is without doubt one of the best I have read in 2009, and my guess is that it is going to surpass the success that the author had with My Splendid Concubine.”- Simon Barrett, Blogger News Network

“Our Hart is…a historical novel in the finest tradition, where one cannot be sure what is real and what is fiction…a most unconventional, and poignant, love story.” -John H. Manhold, FascinatingAuthors.com

“Historical fiction potboiler, yes. But where the `Concubine’ saga truly shines is its thought-provoking passages on relationships, attitudes and cultural differences.”-Tom Carter, author of China: Portrait of a People

Author Bio:

Lloyd Lofthouse is the author of My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart [combined in this single volume], which earned honorable mentions in general fiction at the 2008 London Book Festival, 2009 San Francisco Book Festival, 2009 Hollywood Book Festival, 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival, 2009 Nashville Book Festival and was a finalist in historical fiction for the National Best Books 2010 Awards. Lloyd Lofthouse grew up in Southern California, served in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Marine and lives near San Francisco with his wife and family with a second home in Shanghai, China.

Lloyd Lofthouse is also holding a giveaway: 
Leave an approved comment on one or more Blog posts found at  Lloyd Lofthouse.org or  iLook China.net between May 30, 2012 and June 30, 2012 during "The Concubine Saga" Web Tour and automatically be entered into a drawing to win a limited edition, signed and numbered hard-cover copy of the novel. (NOTE: only one limited-edition, hard-cover copy is available to give away)

Follow the blog tour to see more reviews, and guest posts by the author and giveaways:

Teddy So Many Precious Books          May 30.      G
Patty Broken Teepee                          June 1         G June 1
Alysia My Little Pocketbooks              June 4         G & I June 7
Deborah Bookish Dame                      June 6         G & GP June 6
Melissa Jayne's Books                         June 7        G
J.A. Beard                                          None          I  June 8
Ruth My Devotional Thoughts             June 8       G & GP June 9
Harvee Book Dilettante                        June 11     GP June 12 
Joy Story                                            June 12     None
Mindy Books, Books, & More Books   June 13     G
Krystal Live to Read                           June 14      None
Darlene Peeking Between the Pages     None         G & GP June 14
Col Reads                                          June 15      None
Kathleen Celtic Lady's Reviews           June 1        None
Erica Ink Spots & Roses                     None          G & GP June 18
Tilly The Readers Cafe                      June 19       None
Julie Knitting and Sundries                 June 20        G
Valerie Sweeps 4 Bloggers                 June 21        G
Mel  The Reading Life                      June 22         I June 21
Marie Historical Fiction Connection    None            GP June 22 
Stephanie Layered Pages                   June 25         I June 26
Teddy Historical Tapestry              None             GP June 25 
Amber Peaceful Wishing                June 26          None
Marcie To Read or Not to Read     June 27           G & GP June 28 
M Denise C.                                 June 28           None
Renee Succotash Reviews             June 29            G        
Lucy Moonlight Gleam                  None               G &GP June 29


2 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 6/12/2012 8:58 AM  

Thanks so much for taking part in the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

Lloyd Lofthouse 6/12/2012 7:05 PM  

Thank you for the kind words.

Lloyd Lofthouse

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