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Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
The Empress Orchid is a fictionalized account of the Empress Dowager Tsu His, who was the power behind the throne for the last 46 years of the Ch'ing Dynasty in the 19th century. Orchid was born into poverty, but came to the Forbidden City to be one of the emperor's 3000 concubines or seven wives. She survives the dangers and palace intrigues to become one of his wives, and the only one to bear him a son, who assumes the throne at a young age upon his father's death. With her son as regent, Orchid struggles to lead an empire already on its final legs. Anchee Min's novel is full of historical detail and sheds new light on an empress demonized by Chinese history. Empress Orchid has received mostly positive reviews with the Minneapolis Star Tribune saying, "The slow accretion of courtly detail in this novel winds up torquing the text into something grotesque, nervously riveting, and oddly beautiful. The reader, like Orchid herself, can end up gasping for breath from under all that deadly finery."