Yet another entertaining installment in Carey's patented "hero(ine) travels the globe, sleeping with people from every culture s/he encounters" genre. I did twitch a bit at Carey's handling of race and culture. In brief: Wise Chinese Sage travels to France (err, Terre d'Ange) to find a person worthy of teaching his Ancient Oriental Magic and settles on our heroine, the white chick. He then brings her back to China (err, Chin) with him, which is good, because only her magic powers can save the Chinese Empire (her Pictish magic powers allow her to talk to Chinese dragons, which none of the Chinese people can do). In the process she breaks a number of cultural taboos: She's the first foreigner to enter the Forbidden City, despite it being, well, forbidden! She helps the princess understand that really filial piety is not that important! She introduces lesbian sex to China! And when she leaves, she notes happily that the Princess's peasant bodyguard has (as a result of the quest our heroine was involved in) been given special dispensation to avoid castration, which is good because he's in love with the Princess. French-style sexual liberation can only be a short step away. And all of this is presented as unabashedly good.
. . .but I like reading about traditional Chinese culture. Don't get me wrong, I like the culture Carey has made up for her France-analogue, too, but I feel no particular need for all the other cultures of the world to adopt its mores.
Of course, in the context of France, Moirin isn't exactly white--she's half-Pict (I think that's the right analogue), which is definitely presented in Carey's books as something that the French look down upon. And I thought the way that racism was handled in the parts of the book set in France was interesting. Once she goes to China, though, something very strange happens--she continually thinks about how it's specifically the French side of her heritage that prevents her from physically blending in with the Chinese. Bwah? Because Picts are dark-haired and dark-eyed, and therefore totally look exactly like Chinese people?
I am also not all that pleased with what came across as an approach of "it's okay for bi women to get it on with each other as long as they remember that their primary relationship is with a guy," but this seems to be a fairly widespread belief among real people so I mostly give Carey a pass on that. Especially since it's made clear that Moirin and her female partners do love each other. They're just not soul-bonded.
. . .I'm trying not to think about the soul-bonding. Really, Carey? You didn't have enough clichés and tropes to work with already? You had to throw that one in, too? And I was mostly liking that relationship before that.