The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
This novel by Yangsze Choo was beautifully written and included so many things that make a fantastic story; mystery, history, magical realism and romance. There was also ancient Chinese folklore surrounding a tiger and restless spirits, which lead to significant superstition from the community members. The main plot is focused around a severed finger, Dr. McFarlane's, that must be reunited with his body within 49 days of his death so his soul is not cursed to roam and never find peace. This severed finger is exchanged between many hands and we follow it's journey as the other character's lives slowly intertwine.
The two main characters, Ji Lin and Ren were well developed and their personalities and emotions came out clearly through the pages. Ji Lin was strong-willed and determined to break societal norms by becoming a doctor in the 1930's where a woman's place was deemed at her husband's side. Although Ji Lin wants to become a doctor, she also finds herself struggling to be loyal to her family and their ideals, thus becoming a dressmaker's apprentice and veering slightly off course. She's feisty, but also swallows her pride on multiple occasions to make her family happy or at least not argumentative. With Ren, Choo explores the master-servant relationship in Colonial British Malaya. Ren also has a "cat-sense" that he uses to communicate with his dead twin, Yi, and potentially others connected to him in ways he has yet to decipher.
There are a few secondary characters whose plights truly add to the story and struggles of Ji Lin and Ren and their quests surrounding the severed finger. I really enjoyed the moments Ah Long opened up to Ren as well as the scenes with Ji Lin navigating different suitors or non-suitors.
The only thing I didn't like was that the ending felt very rushed. The rest of the novel was well-paced with a balance of action and historical background either surrounding the folklore or the character's lives as well as some romance. But the last 10-20 pages, everything is quickly wrapped up, not necessarily with a big fat bow, but enough that it almost had a fairy-tale ending which didn't seem to go with the rest of the story. I think I would have liked it a bit more if maybe there was more intrigue as to where these character's lives would go in the future. But overall, definitely something I'd recommend.
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Synopsis: Quick-witted, ambitious Ji Lin is stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s mahjong debts. But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin plunges into a dark adventure: a mirror world of secrets and superstitions.
Eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy Ren also has a secret, a promise he must fulfill to his dead master: to find his master’s severed finger and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever.
As the days tick relentlessly by, a series of unexplained deaths wrack the district, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren’s increasingly dangerous paths crisscross through lush plantations, hospital storage rooms, and ghostly dreamscapes.