Book Review

Review: My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

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Title: My Beautiful Enemy
Author: Sherry Thomas
Publication Info: Penguin 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26889-6
Genre: Historical: Other

Book My Beautiful Enemy

ALERT!  The heroine of My Beautiful Enemy is a martial artist!  She does a handstand on a teacup!  She knocks an assassin off a ship by hitting him with a door! 

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

In My Beautiful Enemy, we meet Catherine Blade (Blade?  Really?) on the deck of a ship.  Within moments, the following is revealed – she’s a martial arts master, she cares about other people, she’s sad, her baby was murdered, and she can toss an assassin off the deck of a wave tossed-ship like it ain’t no thang.  None of these are spoilers – they all happen within the first chapter.   Catherine is a martial artist in what Sherry Thomas explains (in an afterword) as “depicted as they would be in wuxia novels, a genre of Chinese literature that centers on practitioners of martial arts who reach near mythical levels of power and agility”.

Catherine is on her way to England, where – surprise!  She meets her ex, Captain Leighton Atwood.  He is engaged to an Englishwoman but clearly has not gotten over his adventuring days with Catherine.  The book jumps back and forth between 1891 (their present day, when they meet in London) and flashbacks to 1883, where they met while Leighton and Catherine were both intrepid adventurers in China and Turkmenistan.  Catherine, who is half Chinese, half English, and fluent in many languages, travels in disguise as a man and spies on behalf of her Chinese father, while Leighton is spying on behalf of the British Empire.

These flashbacks are just about the most delightful thing ever.  They are poetic and sexy and so, so funny.  “I have always been overfond of the brothels of Kashgar”, Catherine, in disguise, announces.  Leighton knows all along she is female, but she doesn’t know that he knows, cue hilarity mingled with adventure.  I absolutely believed in this couple and wanted them to be together. 

The parts of the book that take place in 1891 involve intrigue, danger, and heartbreak as Leighton and Catherine are terribly estranged but keep being thrown into each other’s company.  Incidentally, there is no trauma directly related to Catherine’s biracial status.  Her tensions with her father stem from the fact that she is not a boy and that she is not content to “act like a girl”.  Her tensions with Leighton have to do with political intrigue and lack of trust.  Her biracial status gives her access to languages, cultures and experiences that she probably would not otherwise have.  While Catherine’s story contains many tragic elements, she’s not a “tragic mulatto”, at least not in this book.

This is a book about healing and it doesn’t skimp on introducing a lot of trauma for our characters to heal from.  Any book that mentions in Chapter One that an infant was murdered is going to be a tough book, emotionally.  Both characters are recovering from various forms of loss, physical injury, and emotional trauma both preceding and stemming from their interactions with each other.  There’s a lot of pain in the book but it’s not depressing – the characters never lose a sense of humor, the adventurous and fantastical element lightens the atmosphere a bit, and the ultimate journey is one of love, reconciliation, empowerment, and healing.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it feels like there are huge gaps in the story.  There’s a prequel, The Hidden Blade, which I plan to start reading as soon as I finish typing this review, and I expect that fills in a lot.  But My Beautiful Enemy is marketed as a stand-alone even though it feels like an abridged trilogy.  I could easily picture Book One being the formative years, which would establish the history between Catherine and the villain – this is a huge missing piece of My Beautiful Enemy.  Book Two would be the Turkmenistan years, and Book Three would be the part in England.  I’m excited about the prequel but if I’m judging My Beautiful Enemy entirely on its own merits, then the lack of background on the villain is the biggest flaw in an almost perfect novel.

This is a fun book, a painful book, and a healing book.  Above all, it’s a beautiful book.  Sherry Thomas is a consistently fantastic writer, in terms of her use of language.  Here’s an example of prose from this book, in which Leighton provides a quick history and geography lesson:

Once, great caravans had teemed on these routes, carrying precious bolts of Chinese silk across the vast steppes of central Asia to the cast of the Caspian Sea, to Antioch, and finally to Rome, to feed the empire’s ever ravenous desire for luxury fabrics.

The rise of great ocean-faring vessels had rendered the land courses obsolete hundreds of years ago.  The caravans that still plied the route were small, sometimes no more than a few camels, trading between towns.  And most of the legendary cities of yore were either lost or reduced to mere shadows of the former glory.

Yet a sense of continuity still lingered in the air.  Marco Polo had drunk the same sweet, cool wine as that in Leighton’s cup, made from oasis-grown white grapes.  A thousand years before that, Buddhist missionaries from India had braved the same perilous paths, carrying the teachings of the Tathaga into the western provinces of China.

And here’s my favorite line:

They made love with infinite care, because they were fragile.  But they also made love with infinite ferocity, because they were indomitable.

Gorgeous writing on every single level.  This book is currently among my favorites.  I loved everything about it, full stop.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    CC says:

    I may have to read it simply because Leighton is my middle name!

  2. 2
    Hannah says:

    I was sold on this book even before reading the excerpt. The accompanying audiobook is available for a good price with the Kindle edition also.

  3. 3
    Quynh Tran says:

    Thomas’ last book didn’t enthrall me as much as her older books. But I read the prequel to this which just blew me away. Excited to read this.

  4. 4
    jw says:

    AHHHH been waiting for so long for this book. I’m asian american so sometimes when I read regencies I’m terribly sad because there’s never going to be a Chinese girl protagonist.

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    @jw – I just started reading the prequel and so far it deals a ton with Catherine (her Chinese name as a child is Ying-ying) growing up in China – it’s fascinating.

  6. 6
    LML says:

    So….read the prequel first??

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    @LML – good question.  I’ve just started the prequel.  Although I definitely thought there were gaps in My Beautiful enemy, I didn’t have a hard time keeping up.  so I thin you could go either way.

  8. 8
    Vicki says:

    Why, yes, finding and buying interesting books for my nook before I travel. Yes, this counts as packing. Doesn’t it?  Hope it lives up to the review but, generally, you guys are right on.

  9. 9
    LenoreJ says:

    My two cents: I read the prequel first and it really enriched my experience with the book.

  10. 10

    I will certainly read this book. I’ve recently discovered Sherry Thomas, thanks to my own AAR Challenge. I really enjoyed her historicals.
    There’s a quality of cosmopolitanism in her novels that I simply adore. The globe is wide and rich, and you rarely feel that in your run-of-the-mill historical romance novels. In her novels, you find a world which is connected, the history that links different parts of Eurasia. The Silk Road was just an example of this.
    Curiously, I have this same feeling with Meljean Brook‘s Iron Seas series, even if it’s alternate history.

  11. 11
    Sarita says:

    This sounds awesome. You had me at ‘the heroine is a martial artist.’

  12. 12
    constance says:

    Definitely don’t like the cover but you’ve sold me with the review

  13. 13
    leftcoaster says:

    I find Ms. Thomas’s books so painful they’re hard to read sometimes, I am never sorry I did but I can’t handle more than one a year. This one tempts me because ass kicking female! but then the baby thing…I can’t handle murdered infants.

    @jw

    Not a regency, but have you read “The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo”? I loved it! Rumor has it Ms. Milan is writing some Asian heroines too, but you probably already know that.

  14. 14
    LSUReader says:

    I loved this book. Easily, it’s one of my favorites of the year. I read The Hidden Blade and My Beautiful Enemy back-to-back and would recommend that for others, too. I believe doing so gave me a much fuller understanding of the characters and a heightened emotional appreciation of this beautiful story.

  15. 15
    Betty Fokker says:

    AMEN. I just read it and it is phenomenal!!

  16. 16
    peggy h says:

    I’m trying to pace myself so as to not consume this book all at once, and to savor the beautiful prose but I’m also so eager to get to the end (about halfway through). 

    I read the prequel when it came out a couple of weeks ago, and absolutely feel that it is making me enjoy My Beautiful Enemy so much more. 

    I may be speaking too soon as I’m not yet done with this book, but characters mentioned almost just in passing (at least in the first half) to whom I frankly may not have paid that much attention if I had not read the prequel are fully fleshed out in my head as they are mentioned (Amah, Lin, Herb, Leighton’s parents, etc.)  I know both books are noted as stand-alone books, but they totally complement each other and if you haven’t read either yet, do start with the prequel!

  17. 17
    Cap says:

    Just finished! I read Hidden Blade first because my OCD requires that I read books in order of release (not a terrible symptom, right?). I’m very glad I did. Thomas always blows me away, and MBE was no exception, but I can’t imagine it working so well without the prequel. I would have loved to see this as a trilogy. I am not a huge fan of going back and forth in time with a couple, a device that Thomas uses a lot, but I am a huge fan of hers, so I gobble it up all the same. Now, WHEN do we get another book????

  18. 18
    Amber says:

    I would also recommend reading the Hidden Blade first; I would just treat the 2 books like one long one. It’s a beautifully done story.

  19. 19

    Please read The Hidden Blade first. They’re both beautiful books, but together they are something absolutely special. I feel like reading Hidden Blade gave so much depth to Beautiful Enemy.

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