The Green Phoenix

Written by Alice Poon
Review by Viviane Crystal

Bumbutai, the Mongolian princess groomed to be the wife of an Emperor, loves a soldier, Dorgon, and will love him her entire life. However, the path of fate calls her to become a concubine of the Chinese emperor’s brother, Hong Taiji. Hong is an unusual man, willing to curry favor with Bumbutai by allowing her to study Chinese and Mongol literature, calligraphy, history and culture. He will not sleep with her until she wants him. After circumstances change and time passes, she becomes Empress of the early Qing Dynasty.

Bumbutai possesses a canny sense of who is trustworthy and has the best skills to play a significant role in China’s development in the 1600s. She remains steadfast when Hong Taiji, Dorgon, and other leaders, including her own son, become obsessed with drink, food, other women, and crooked supporters. Numerous family members and friends come to untimely ends, but the Empress and then Empress Dowager knows precisely when to advise her family and councilors through all the trials and tribulations of a multitude of Chinese characters fomenting rebellion, betrayal, wars and weakness.

The loveliness of this novel, however, lies in the characters’ appreciation for beauty in nature, paintings, calligraphy, historical tales and legends, nature and spontaneously shared poetry that never fails to engage the reader. The history is well-researched and accurate, including the advice the Empress and her son receive from the German Jesuit and astrologer, Johann Adam Schall von Bell. The wisdom of Confucian and Chinese teachings ultimately leads the Empress to enable her country to evolve into modernity. The Green Phoenix is delightful historical fiction and a wonderful tribute to a noteworthy Chinese empress!