I don't even know where to start with this book. It went from confusing and boring to insane and confusing.
Plot: I don't actually fucking know. There were lots of people doing something with nanotechnology. There were some orgies involved.
WHAT THE FUCK.
I have a feeling that this novel was supposed to be longer and it was chopped and chopped until it was 540 pages. But they should have just chopped lots of the beginning and put some of the bits that were cut out of the middle back in.
One of the main characters Nell (and there were a lot of fucking characters) starts as essentially an abused and neglected young girl and ends up...as a princess...a general...I DON'T EVEN KNOW. The book just ends. But we spend AAGGGEESSS to get to what I think should have only happened in a chapter and instead it took 250 pages.
FINE. The scenery is well sketched and some of the world comes through in the description. There were some genuinely guffaw-inducing lines:
Sages, seers, and theoretical physicists could only speculate at what, if any, relationship might exist between the Shanghai Police Department's astonishing scope of activities and actual law enforcement.
Or possibly my favourite:
The House of the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel was what they called it when they were speaking Chinese. Venerable because of his goatee, white as the dogwood blossom, a badge of unimpeachable credibility in Confucian eyes. Inscrutable because he had gone to his grave without divulging the Secret of the Eleven Herbs and Spices.
But then a lot of the description doesn't help as bits are traipsed over and never explained. So it's all a bit of a bright, nanotechnological puddle.
AAAHHHHH! AND ALL THE ANACHRONISMS. From the neo-Victorians to Confucian justice. Just. What.
I think there were some clever bits in but they were unfortunately buried by descriptions of fucking mechanical horses. And characters just fell off the face of the earth! What happened to Fiona? What happened to Elizabth? What happened to Judge Fang? And what about the Mouse Army (note: not made of actual mice). I don't even know what was going on with that. They seemed to be an intrinsic part of the story but then did relatively nothing. Did the seed thing actually happen or was it stopped by Nell at the end? What happened at the end? WAHHH.
I wanted to like it. And sometimes I did. But mostly I hated it. Mostly I thought it was trying to be too clever by describing things. The plot was all over the fucking shop and things just STARTED HAPPENING FOR NO REASON.
Annoyingly, I think it passes my test even the bonus points. Just barely though. I don't think it really discusses gender equality, just implies that it's a good thing. But of course, there has to be a random rape scene! WHY? IT WAS SO INCONGRUOUS. It was so not needed.
AHHHHH! I HATE THIS BOOK.
2/5 stars for amusing lines about the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel.