The Garden of Perfect Brightness (The Forbidden City)

Written by Melissa Addey
Review by J. Lynn Else

China, 1720s. Niuhuru never expected to be chosen. Thus, when her name is called to become a minor prince’s concubine, Niuhuru has difficulty believing it. When brought to her new home, the Garden of Perfect Brightness, Niuhuru quickly falls in love with its beauty. During her garden wanderings, she meets Giuseppe Castiglione, an Italian painter serving the emperor. Giuseppe is enchanted by Niuhuru, unaware of her role in the prince’s life. As years pass and fates change, Niuhuru and Giuseppe will discover that despite their contentment living a quiet life, the pressures of ambition and power will change the course of both their futures.

The author has created an irresistible storyline with sumptuous character and setting details. Giuseppe and Niuhuru alternate points of view, with intriguing distinctions made between Giuseppe’s native culture and Niuhuru’s. The book’s titular garden is beautiful and absorbing. However, the romance thread needs more focus, as major development happens between chapters. Characters are enjoyable, with adequate time spent on each, providing deeper layers to the storyline. Basing her novel on real people, Addey provides alluring insights into the power struggles plaguing one imperial family. A poignant yet sweet love story with an immersive setting and sympathetic characters. Recommended.