Rameau’s ramblings: I had high hopes for this book once. Originally posted on Goodreads November 21st 2012.
In 1865, the hope for gold has spurred many to seek their fortunes in California, the place the Chinese call Gum San or “Gold Mountain.” Amidst this backdrop, Quiang, a new Chinese immigrant, works the dangerous rails hoping to save enough money to send home to his parents. In town, Leah and Clara, two enterprising women from New York, have plans of their own to grow a restaurant and laundry business. However, both plans go awry when Quiang and Leah meet one fateful day. What starts as a budding attraction soon grows into tumultuous desire despite the cultural and language barriers between them.
Initially resistant, Leah succumbs to passion following a tragic loss that leaves her vulnerable and alone. With hopes for a future that now includes Leah, Quiang embarks on a perilous path as he leaves the railroad behind for a more profitable position as a courier for The Tong, henchmen for the dangerous Triad. Quiang soon finds that navigating the secretive life of a courier brings more danger than he has ever faced on the railroad, dangers that not only threaten to tear him and Leah apart, but may cost them their lives as well.
Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content and graphic language.
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.
It’s been six months but I remember buying this book because I’d seen a semi-positive review on a blog—Dear Author probably—and because a romance of a mixed-race couple in the 1860’s Wild West sounded intriguing. Especially since neither character is white.
Unfortunately the story didn’t live up to its promise.
I did like the start of the book, although I did think it somewhat boring. The author spends a lot of time setting the scene and describing the life of a Chinese worker building the railroads for a pittance and the life of a black single woman trying to build a new life and a business for herself and her friend. Bias, racism, sexism, it’s all there and prevalent in the vernacular.
As if that’s not enough to create obstacles to the couple’s happiness, there’s also their inability to fully understand each other. Quiang speaks but a little English and he and Leah have to communicate through gestures, looks, and touches.
There’s all this, and what does the author do with it? Nothing. Cullars glosses over all the difficult—and rewarding—steps of a meaningful relationship building and focuses on the paper thin physical attraction instead. There’s a brief mention of how Leah and Quiang learn to communicate with the help of a dictionary, but they don’t really talk to each other. When they’re together they’re either taking their clothes of and having sex or putting their clothes on and thinking about having sex. And those sex scenes are bad. There’s creaming and there’s tumescence, there’s orbs and there’s the infamous “her sex” euphemism.
After all that, the story and my rating for it could have been saved had I bought Quiang’s interactions with the triad members. I can’t really pinpoint my problem with them, but something in the language used left me unconvinced. It wasn’t just Wao’s refusal to call an erection an erection, it was also how the revelation of the misappropriation was handled. Until then, I had liked Quiang’s willingness to engage in shady businesses for quick profit and that both characters had such defined lives outside each other, after it just felt anticlimactic.
I didn’t want a happily ever after epilogue, I wanted to read how they get there.
So what does the book have? Good historical description with nascent characterisations, but without any real character or relationship development, and a whiff of Wild West adventures. It simply wasn’t enough for me.