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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
It was the beginning of the nineteenth century and ruthless pirates ruled the seas surrounding China and South East Asia. Just as Europeans were trying to exert their naval and cultural power on the Chinese and others in the region, one group was determined to fight and defeat them. Perhaps the most notorious pirate of them all was, surprisingly, a woman, Mógū. In DW Plato’s The Dragon From Guangzhou, we track Mógū’s life from when she was given up by her mother to the orphanage nuns, through her sale to a brothel on the infamous “flower boats” until the notorious pirate, Zheng Yi, falls in love with her and kidnaps her to make her his bride. Discovering a life of unparalleled luxury as the wife of a famous and wealthy pirate, Mógū soon becomes bored with being a pampered lady and seeks to accompany her husband and their “adopted” son on raiding missions and battles against the accursed foreigners, not to mention the navy of the Imperial Chinese Empire. Based on what would later become the British island of Hong Kong, Zheng Yi and his pirates would strike fear into anyone who dared to cross their path all over the South China Sea.
The Dragon From Guangzhou was definitely one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. As a historical fiction fan, it was right in my wheelhouse. However, author DW Plato’s narrative and characters were what lifted this book out of the ordinary and into something special. There was great pleasure in watching a strong, independent female character rise to greatness and power at a time when females were dismissed, out of hand and especially daughters were shunned and unwanted by the intensely patriarchal society of the time. A highlight for me was the fascinating interaction between Mógū and her husband’s lover and adopted son, Po Tsai. A more complicated love triangle would have been difficult to imagine. I particularly enjoyed seeing the moral side of Mógū, despite her clear penchant for violence and readiness to fight. Like all good leaders, she put the needs of the men, women, and children of her protectorate before her own, more often than not. The writing is flowing and seamless with the action fast and furious, allowing me to complete the read essentially in one sitting – I never wanted to put it down! This book has everything lovers of battles, heroism, relationships, and history could ever want. When a book teaches me about a period in time and a culture I have not read of before, it succeeds in its mission. The Dragon From Guangzhou succeeds, big-time.