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House of Eight Orchids by James Thayer

House of Eight Orchids

by James Thayer

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"I liked it! I liked it!" Apologies to Sally Field. But I did enjoy this high adventure fiction set in China during the warlord period that plagued that country during the Japanese occupation prior to WWII.

Two brothers, sons of an American consul, are kidnapped off the streets when young children and are brought up by a eunuch to become a warrior and artistic forger. The novel develops on the point of betrayal and follows the evolution of the warrior brother from a naive and unknowing member of the criminal classes to a character of increased sophistication who retains a moral ambiguity. Encounters with a fellow kidnappee, a Chinese actress and an American missionary doctor, with a variety of intriguing and often dangerous Chinese, and a relationship of flexible trust with an American gunboat commander shape his emerging personality.

Plenty of action, quite a bit of (appropriate) gore, danger, mishaps, humor, and the appearance of a monstrous dog that might possibly be supernatural engage and involve the reader in a tumult of event. Thayer masterfully avoids obvious plot points, avoids over-writing, and avoids stereotypes of the guy lit genre. Somehow he delivers surprise and twist and unexpected action while all the while guiding his anti-hero to true novelistic hero through triumph and defeat, agony and redemption.

James Thayer is a new to me author whose other books are beckoning. I intend to get to know him better, probably starting with Man of the Century, a Little Big Man inspired novel narrated by a 108 year-old man who's been everything from spy to interim ruler of China. Can't wait! ( )
  Limelite | Mar 27, 2017 |
John and William, children of the American consul, were kidnapped as youth and raised in the House of 8 Orchards, ran by Eunuch Chang, a criminal. John has picked up many talents, including pick pocketing, theft and murder. His brother William, an artist, is a skilled forger of documents. When the Eunuch has a popular actress kidnapped, William rallies to her side, helping her escape. John is left with the choice of family or custom.

This was an interesting and engaging book. Some of the characters seemed stereotypical, but the main characters struggled with some interesting moral choices. Overall, well worth picking up. ( )
  JanaRose1 | Apr 20, 2016 |
***This book was reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review***

Thayer’s House of 8 Orchids was engaging straight from the beginning, with swift pacing and very detailed description that made it feel like being there. I was hooked from the start.

Orchids follows the story of John Yellow Hair, and his brother William. At very young ages, they were kidnapped in China, and raised by Eunuch Chang to serve in criminal enterprises. John grows to become one of Chang’s most valued assassins/enforcers, while his brother is a master forger.

All that changes when John is forced to choose between loyalty to his brother or loyalty to his kidnapper. John chooses blood over bond and attempts to help his brother escape, after William tries to flee with a young lady sold into slavery, and is subsequently caught and punished.. On the same day John and William flee, Chungking is attacked by the Japanese, creating chaos, and separating the two brothers.

William and Lily, the girl he was trying to aid, are captured by another criminal, and sold along the Yangtze. John coerces the help of some unusual people (and a creepy gigantic hound) and sets off to find William, and get revenge, all the while trying to avoid those Chang sends after him.

This is a historical thriller, set in late 1930s China. I cannot vouch for full historical accuracy, but there were things I recognised as being so, and there is certainly a feel of authenticity. The bombing aftermath brought the feeling of numbed terror alive. This part was my favourite, in terms of vivid description. Another thing that stuck out to me was Madame Tuon and her feet. I do know footbinding was a custom once practised in China. I cannot at all imagine having my feet bound like that, and needing the assistance of others to walk. I'm now interested in learning more of this odd, archaic custom, how it evolved, and better yet, *why*.

If you enjoy a good thriller, especially of the historic variety, be sure to check out House of 8 Orchids by James Thayer. This book will keep you reading til the midnight hours! ( )
  PardaMustang | Apr 10, 2016 |
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In 1912, John Wade and his brother, William--children of the American consul--were kidnapped off the street in Chungking, China, and raised in the house of Eunuch Chang, the city's master criminal. Twenty-five years later, John is the eunuch's most valuable ward, a trained assassin and swindler, and William has become a talented forger. On the brink of World War II, China is in chaos. When William betrays Eunuch Chang and escapes to central China, a place of ferocious warlords and bandits, John begins a desperate search to save his brother, while Eunuch Chang hunts them both.… (more)

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