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Breath-Taking Historical Fiction: Review of The Concubine’s Child by Carol Jones

August 14, 2018

Malaysia, 1930. Sixteen-year-old Yu Lan, the uneducated daughter of a struggling herbalist, dreams of one day leaving her drab life behind to begin a blissful new chapter with her secret sweetheart, Ming.

Although they are from different social classes, Ming has promised he’ll convince his father of their love when the time is right, and Yu Lan can hardly wait for the day when they are officially betrothed.

But fate is not kind to Yu Lan. As the daughter of a less fortunate family she is already considered a burden, and when the opportunity arises, Yu Lan’s father sells her as a concubine to the Chans, an affluent yet childless local family desperate for an heir.

Her dreams of a happy life dashed, Yu Lan endures further heartache when the jealous Madam Chan refuses to let Yu Lan bond with the baby son she gives birth to. As Madam Chan’s cruelties continue, Yu Lan becomes determined to escape and regain control of her life, and one auspicious night, she pieces together the perfect plan to do just that…

London, 2015. Although he has his beautiful wife Sarah and his beloved mother June, Nick Chan has always felt like a part of him is missing. He’s never been entirely sure what that part is, but when he’s offered a lecturing job in Kuala Lumpur, Nick realises that a trip to his family homeland could help him find exactly what he’s searching for.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur is an experience like no other. Nick reconnects with his culture, meets the grandfather he never knew, and journeys to the Chan family home to see where his ancestors lived. But the house is an unhappy place – cursed, the locals say – and Nick is mystified. What awful events unfolded here? What misfortunes befell his family? The truth can only lie inside the house itself, and Nick is determined to uncover it.

The Concubine’s Child, Carol Jones’s first adult novel, is a genuinely breathtaking work of fiction with an authenticity born of many visits to family in Malaysia. Jones weaves seamlessly between past and present to follow the Chan family through the years and ultimately reveal the tragic events at the heart of the story, and her characters are beautifully drawn and deeply authentic.

It’s always a delight to read a book that effortlessly immerses the reader in a culture different to their own, and The Concubine’s Child is a perfect example of this. Kuala Lumpur is so vividly described that one can almost feel the humidity and the bustle of this lively city, and Jones’s descriptions of the lush Malaysian jungle surrounding the Chan family home are similarly evocative.

This is a profoundly sad story in parts, but it’s also a tale of courage, love and the healing power of forgiveness. If you’re a fan of Dinah Jeffries or Kate Furnivall, pick up The Concubine’s Child – you won’t be disappointed.

About the author

Carol Jones was born in Brisbane, Australia, but has lived in Melbourne for most of her life. She taught English and Drama in secondary schools before working as an editor of children’s magazines, and has been a full-time author since 1999, writing primarily for children and young adults. Decades of visits to her husband’s family in Malaysia have given her a deep insight into this culturally diverse nation, and she drew on this knowledge when writing the Malaysian-set The Concubine’s Child, her first novel for adults.

Purchase a copy of The Concubine’s Child here 


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