Review: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Alexis: Read 2/27/19

The Night Tiger is a fascinating blend of magical realism, historical fiction, romance, and murder mystery. It follows two main characters: Ji Lin and Ren. Ji Lin is the apprentice of a dressmaker who is also secretly a dance-hall girl. Ren is an eleven-year-old houseboy who recently switched masters due to his old master’s death. Their lives come together when Ji Lin finds a severed finger and tries to figure out where to return it.

I love that the book is set in 1930’s colonial Malay, now modern Malaysia. This makes for a rich and cultural setting, and I loved reading about the different languages spoken and the foods eaten. I loved Choo’s descriptions of clothing from Ji Lin’s point of view, and how she showed England’s rule and influence over the culture of Malay.

Throughout the book, Choo focuses on the superstitions based on chinese numbers, as well the folklore of weretigers. She even includes a section explaining these at the end of the book, which I wish were placed before the book as pretext, but I still appreciated her including them at all.

The first 30 pages were a little slow, and I had to get used to Choo’s writing style and tone. But then I was hooked. This isn’t a fast-paced book, and the mystery is revealed slowly. Though the main plot is fairly slow, there were enough subplots to hold my attention.

I loved Ji Lin as a character. She’s a classic modern day heroine in 1930’s Malaysia, yet she also fits in perfectly in the time period. She’s intelligent and clever and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Yet, unlike where a lot of strong female characters seem to fail, she is still feminine and caring. I also really enjoyed Shin, her step brother’s, character. I found he and Ji Lin to have a lot of chemistry, and I found their relationship moved in a natural direction.

What I didn’t like about the book: the switching POVs. Ji Lin’s chapters were first person, past tense, while Ren’s chapters were in third person, present tense. And every once in a while, I was thrown into William Acton’s POV (Ren’s new master). It would have served the book better if both Ji Lin and Ren’s chapters were in first person, or, honestly, if the whole book was in Ji Lin’s perspective. Sometimes Ren felt like an afterthought.

I really enjoyed The Night Tiger’s setting, atmosphere, and characters. I wish the ending had tied up some of the loose ends, but overall, this was an interesting and unique read. Just don’t read it if you get queasy at the mention of severed fingers!

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

 

SPOILERS BELOW:

I’m not really even sure how to address the twin issue. Why do authors always feel like one of the twins has to be dead? I enjoyed Ren’s “cat whiskers” sense, but Yi’s role in the story was kind of “eh” for me.

I actually really liked the fact that Ji Lin and Shin fell in love. Their relationship, and the progression of their relationship, felt very real to me, and I loved the dynamic. I didn’t find it weird because they were so close and important to each other and not actually related.

However, I wasn’t a fan of how Shin’s character progressed. He professed his love for Ji Lin, only to beg her to have sex with him…? It felt completely out of character, as Shin was nothing but respectful towards Ji Lin, and even though he was portrayed as a womanizer, I knew from the beginning that it was obviously just a front. I felt like their almost-bedroom scene could have gone very differently. But, in the end, I was glad Ji Lin stood up for herself and decided to wait on marriage and pursue a career. It felt true to her character.

 

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