Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Review: Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin

Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin
St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 18st, 2024
Hardcover. 352 pages.

About Daughter of Calamity:

"Jingwen spends her nights as a showgirl at the Paramount, one of the most lavish clubs in Shanghai, competing ruthlessly to charm wealthy patrons. To cap off her shifts, she runs money for her grandmother, the exclusive surgeon to the most powerful gang in the city. A position her grandmother is pressuring her to inherit…

When a series of cabaret dancers are targeted―the attacker stealing their faces―Jingwen fears she could be next. And as the faces of the dancers start appearing on wealthy foreign socialites, she realizes Shanghai's glittering mirage of carefree luxury comes at a terrible price.

Fighting not just for her own safety but that of the other dancers―women who have simultaneously been her bitterest rivals and only friends―Jingwen has no choice but to delve into the city's underworld. In this treacherous realm of tangled alliances and ancient grudges, silver-armed gangsters haunt every alley, foreign playboys broker deals in exclusive back rooms, and the power of gods is wielded and traded like yuan. Jingwen will have to become something far stranger and more dangerous than her grandmother ever imagined if she hopes to survive the forces waiting to sell Shanghai's bones."

Daughter of Calamity takes place in the dazzling yet dangerous world of 1930s Shanghai and provides for a highly entertaining fantasy historical fiction read. 

The story follows Jingwen who is a showgirl at the popular Shanghai club the Paramount in the 1930s. She also occasionally runs errands for her grandmother who works as a surgeon for a Shanghai gang, something that her grandmother has been working to slowly shape Jingwen to do one day as well. The trouble starts when dancers at both Jingwen's club and other local clubs are attacked and parts of their faces are stolen, which is about as horrifying as it sounds. Jingwen suspects that the rich are using these stolen faces for themselves, and she eventually undertakes the task of figuring out just what is happening and what she can do to stop the attacks.

One of my favorite things about Daughter of Calamity was the setting. Rosalie Lin brought 1930s Shanghai to life in the best way possible and I was easily immersed in this world. The contrast between the exciting and glitzy cabaret world and the gritty reality of the city’s underbelly is executed extremely well. You can really see Lin’s passionate for this story, the setting, and her characters through her writing, which felt vibrant and beautiful in its telling.

I also appreciated some of the themes explored, such as how colonial rule can affect the culture and experiences of a place. I think Lin did a really great job of highlighting this through the many diverse experiences of her characters, from Jingwen to her grandmother to the other cabaret dancers and everyone in between–the specifics may be different for different people, but the influences and overall impact is similar.

Unfortunately, I did have a few issues with this book. The pacing was a bit uneven in areas that left me struggling to get through it in areas and harder to remain engaged. The writing felt somewhat convoluted and almost lacking direction at times. I also thought the more magical elements could have used a bit more explanation or focus in order to feel better integrated with the rest of the story, as I felt it wasn’t balanced overly well as it was. I loved the concept of this story a bit more than the execution, but I am still so glad I had a chance to read this imaginative story.

Overall, I’ve given Daughter of Calamity 3.5 stars! I am unsure if there will be a sequel to this, but if so I would be curious to find out more about Jingwen and this world, and if not I’d love to read more from Rosalie Lin in the future to see what else she has up her sleeve!

*I received a copy of  Daughter of Calamity in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of a story set in 1930s Shanghai. But the part about stealing faces is a little upsettingšŸ˜¬