The first thing you notice about White Tiger is the size of the tome. It’s 528 pages long and much of it seems like padding, although I’m sure the author would argue that it was needed to develop the characters more fully.
White Tiger is an urban fantasy that uses the rich mythology of China and it is the clear that the author has researched the subject in depth and has done her best to do it justice. Much of it is based in Hong Kong, and again the author’s familiarity with the city shines through, but often led me to wondering what the Cantonese and Mandarin words meant. There was a glossary at the back of the book, but having read it in ebook format, it is a pain to bookmark, then turn to the glossary page and then return to the page you’re reading and then a few lines later to have to do it again. It is one of the advantages of physical books, but honestly, even then it would probably still be a pain.
White Tiger is the first book in a trilogy, with each of the books named after one of the four winds (Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon being the other two books in the trilogy). Bai Hu, the White Tiger makes a number of appearances (as do the in the book but he is hardly central to the plot, so it does seem like the choice of titles was simply for effect. The fourth wind, the Black Turtle however, does play a big part in the story.
The story revolves around Emma, an Aussie nanny who is working in Hong Kong, and has been employed by Ah Wu, the Dark Lord of the Northern Heavens and the North Wind (Black Turtle), to look after his human daughter, Simone. As the story progresses, Emma uncovers her employer’s secret and enters further into a world full of Shen (Immortals) and learns that her charge has been targeted by demons and that a war between Heaven and Hell is being waged on Earth. She also discovers that she is helplessly in love with her enigmatic employer.
The USP of this book is definitely Chan’s take on Chinese lore. However, her knowledge of Hong Kong and familiarity with the martial arts gives the book added flavour. The slow exposition of the unrequited love story on the other hand became just a little bit sickly towards the end, with not enough sexual sizzle to keep it interesting. My main bugbear with the book has to be the length. Too much time is wasted with Emma travelling around Hong Kong meeting friends for a gossip. Also, it seems ridiculous that the Dark Lord would allow Emma and his daughter to leave the protection of his home so many times despite them getting attacked by demons on almost every occasion.
If you are willing to look past the padding and that minor plot issue, this is a rather unique adventure through Chinese mythology and martial arts. I will most certainly consider reading the other’s in the series. My rating: 4/5