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I loved Treasure Island as a kid, reading it several times, so I was excited to see a retelling. Having it be a retelling set in ancient China makes it even better. Lee did a wonderful job with developing the characters of Xiang and Anh, with developing their relationship, and it was a wonderful addition to the adventure.
While the other characters were not developed quite as much, they were not left as stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs. Indeed, Lee went against the grain with many characters, not the least of which is the fact that the notorious pirate, the one who united all of the smaller pirate groups and took on the emperor, was a woman. Then to learn, in the afterward of the audiobook, that she was an actual historical figure was amazing.
Of course, there is still the filial pressure that is so culturally important, and the relationship between Xiang and her mother, with Xiang's desire to make her mother proud yet having no idea how to attain it, drives so much of what Xiang did.
With as much fun as this retelling was, I do hope that Lee writes more retellings of the classics, seating them in different cultures from the original as this one was. It colors the story so differently and enhances the original story in a wonderful way.
For this novel, I also had a chance to listen to the audiobook, which was narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. Her performance was great, and I appreciated listening to someone who knows how to pronounce the names and various Mandarin and Viet words that were used. The short section when Anh translates the poem Xiang is talking about into Viet was wonderful to listen to; it definitely would have short-changed the story to have it narrated by someone who couldn't speak those languages themselves.
Lee takes this tale that has historically been about a teenage white dude and turned it into this beautiful story about this young woman and her Sapphic adventure on the sea. If you love Treasure Island but have been turned off from the same old tale; then this is especially up your alley. The infusion of Asian history and cultural elements adds a lot. In addition, the characters are not exact copies, so there is still a lot of mystery to unpack here. Overall, you're getting a story that feels fresh and exciting with all the classic story beats that you know and love.