This is the first historical fiction focused on ancient China that I’ve ever read. Generally, my historical fiction tastes stay in Europe as I have this thing for kings and queens, or ancient Egypt and Rome. Why I never strayed into Asia is, frankly, a mystery to me because the culture is beautiful and fascinating and they have Emperors which satisfies why I lean towards Europe… Anyway, I’m just making excuses as to why it took me so long to read “The Moon in the Palace”. The story follows Mei, one of the Emperor’s concubines, who is told that she has a great destiny ahead of her, though she is unsure what shape it will take. Mei is from the Wu family, so given the subtitle is “a novel of Empress Wu”, you can kind of guess where that destiny leads, though that doesn’t come into play in the first book of this duology.
Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat: I wanted to love this book. I really did! In a day and age (still!) where it is unfortunately common to belittle a woman’s intellect, deny her the same accolades freely offered to a man, a woman’s work in ANY field to be viewed as lackluster compared to a male counterpart, I wanted to love this book HARD. But I didn’t. Even with stories of women being passed over for men being so common, I felt that this particular story was forced. A huge assumption was made in something that is supposed to be historical fiction, and in order to lift a woman up, someone else had to be torn down. In this case, another very real person: Einstein.
Don’t let the title fool you, “Girl in Disguise” is no where near the same genre of things like “Gone Girl” or “Girl on the Train” or “All the Missing Girls” –this is not a thriller. I don’t know when thrillers decided to go that route with titles, but this book is actually a historical fiction about the first female Pinkerton Detective, Kate Warne. Not much is actually known about Kate other than she was, indeed, the first female detective and she was hired by Pinkerton himself. There is speculation that she was a widow—something tragic and world altering must have occurred for a woman of her time to seek this kind of employment—and there were rumors she was having a long-term affair with Pinkerton, but none of this has been proven. There are also no verified pictures of her, which, as a spy, I’m sure the real-life Kate was happy for. This lack of substantiated information into Kate’s life allowed Macallister to have a great deal of freedom when writing Kate’s story, and she uses it to take the reader on a fun, historically accurate ride!
“Arena” is a futuristic dystopian story with some flavors of “Hunger Games” meets “Red Rising” but follows along a more traditional Roman gladiator structure—which shouldn’t be a surprise given the title and cover. The story follows Colston, the son of an abusive drunk and owner of an estate where murderers are sent to fight in gladiatorial combat, as he grows from a lonely 15 year old to the premier trainer of these fighting men. By befriending Cole, a giant of a man convicted of murder by trying to defend his slaughtered family, the two help each other survive in their respective worlds. When Colston falls for Anna, a debtor that his father purchased, he starts to plan for a future away from his father’s estate. Unfortunately, he never really gets to the point where he wants to better or change this dystopian society where those who fall into debt are sold like slaves, and those convicted of murder must entertain the masses in bloody combat, which you kind of expect from a dystopian story. Despite the feel of those other books present in “Arena”, Colston is only ever focused on him and his immediate circle, not changing an inhumane practice the way Anna encourages him, which never sat well with me. Now, some of these plot points are spread out between several books, but this is the omnibus with all three books rolled into one. I liked some of the books better than others, but as I received the whole collection, I’ll be rating it as the omnibus and not the individual stories.
“Choose to Rise” is a lyrical account of the Armenian Genocide. I know what you’re thinking: how can such a horrendous (but historically important) part of our history be LYRICAL? Allow me to explain. “Choose to Rise” is a historical fiction of the events that happened in the years leading up to the Armenian Genocide, during, and very briefly the aftermath. The vast majority of this book occurs over the span of a few years (1913-1915) and is told in first person through the main character Armen, who is finally telling his grandchildren what he and his family endured. Despite the heavy subject matter, the author endeavors to make his readers really feel what his characters (and countless real people) encountered. He aims to bring that era to life by painting us a picture through prose. Mekaelian’s descriptions throughout the book are just lovely, which is why this book has a lyrical quality to it. While I thought the author’s writing was beautiful, it didn’t always work well with the story he was aiming to tell, however.
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