What’s it all about?:
Set against the backdrop of 1830s Singapore where piracy, crime, triads, and tigers are commonplace, this historical romance follows the struggle of two lovers Zhen, a Chinese coolie and triad member, and Charlotte, an 18-year-old Scots woman and sister of Singapores Head of Police. Two cultures bound together by the invisible threads of fate yet separated by cultural diversity.
What did I think?:
A huge thank you to the lovely Faye for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Monsoon Books for sending me a free copy of The Red Thread, the first novel in a quartet in exchange for an honest review. One of my favourite things as a reader is to learn about different countries and cultures and I’m especially interested in places within Asia like China and Singapore whose customs are explored in the most intricate detail in this novel. I have to admit, when I first started the book, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to enjoy it as much as I had hoped, it was a bit of a slow burner although meticulously researched and beautifully descriptive. Then, by about halfway through, I became much more invested in the characters and their lives and found myself reading it a lot quicker, intrigued by the love story within.
The Red Thread is set predominantly in Singapore in the 1830’s where there were a great variety of different nations and religious practices living together – from the Malaysian, Chinese and Indian to the European and British whites. Our heroine for the novel is Charlotte who has recently come over from Scotland where she had been living with an aunt to join her brother Robert, who has a very important job as Chief Of Police in Singapore. The story explores Charlotte adjusting to life in a foreign climate, learning the customs and nature of the people and making new friends and acquaintances.
From the very beginning on disembarking from the ship she comes into contact with a young Chinese labourer called Zhen and there is an instant attraction between them although they do not meet until about halfway into the novel. When they do, love starts to blossom and things become very difficult for both characters. Zhen is engaged to be married giving him an opportunity and money that he thought he would never have had yet because of the difference in their cultures and social status, their relationship is likely to be frowned upon, meaning that marriage between the two of them would be an impossibility.
I think if you want to learn more about Singapore and the wealth of different cultures in the 1800’s, this book is perfect for you. Dawn Farnham writes a novel rich in exquisite detail and I especially enjoyed the sections that focused on the various cuisines available, Chinese folklore and beliefs – particularly about death and how a funeral is arranged and the vast effort that is also placed into arranging a marriage. As for the characters, I have to say I didn’t really get on with Zhen. I loved the sections with him and his friend Qian and enjoyed the friendship that they shared but as a personality, he irked me slightly and I didn’t agree with the way he treated his wife and even Charlotte herself at times.
Despite this, I did find this a fascinating story and it was so evocatively written that I was instantly pulled into the early nineteenth century in a land completely foreign to myself but somehow, it felt strangely familiar after merely a few pages. I also really appreciated how the author used actual historical figures, like Irishman George Coleman who was responsible for a lot of the architecture/buildings in Singapore at that time. His life and many others seemed effortlessly woven into the main narrative and by the end of the novel, I did feel like I knew a lot of the characters intimately. If you enjoy lavish historical detail, a slower paced plot, poetry and a forbidden love story, this just might be the book for you.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
Dawn Farnham is the author of The Straits Quartet (The Red Thread, The Shallow Seas, The Hills of Singapore and The English Concubine), as well as numerous short stories, plays and children’s books. A former long-term resident of Singapore, Dawn now calls Perth, Australia, home. Her new book, Finding Maria is published in October 2017. Learn more about Dawn at http://www.dawnfarnham.com.
Thank you once again to Monsoon Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. The Red Thread was published on 7th April 2015 and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21149887-the-red-thread