Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

06 Apr

In the Shadow of the CypressMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Simon & Schuster web site:

In 1906, the Chinese in California lived in the shadows. Their alien customs, traditions, and language hid what they valued from their neighbors . . . and left them open to scorn and prejudice. Their communities were ruled—and divided—by the necessity of survival among the many would-be masters surrounding them, by struggles between powerful tongs, and by duty to their ancestors.

Then, in the wake of natural disaster, fate brought to light artifacts of incredible value along the Monterey coast: an ancient Chinese jade seal and a plaque inscribed in a trio of languages lost to all but scholars of antiquity. At first, chance placed control of those treasures in the hands of outsiders—the wayward Irishman who’d discovered them and a marine scholar who was determined to explore their secrets. The path to the truth, however, would prove to be as tangled as the roots of the ancient cypress that had guarded these treasures for so long, for there are some secrets the Chinese were not ready to share. Whether by fate, by subtle design, or by some intricate combination of the two, the artifacts disappeared again . . . before it could be proved that they must have come there ages before Europeans ever touched the wild and beautiful California coast.

Nearly a century would pass before an unconventional young American scientist unearths evidence of this great discovery and its mysterious disappearance. Taking up the challenge, he begins to assemble a new generation of explorers to resume the perilous search into the ocean’s depth . . . and the shadows of history. Armed with cutting-edge, modern technology, and drawing on connections to powerful families at home and abroad, this time Americans and Chinese will follow together the path of secrets that have long proved as elusive as the ancient treasures that held them.

How odd– a hidden treasure novel with no villain!

In the last third of the book, I was trying to figure out why the pacing seemed so strange. The plot was moving along, the events were interesting, but it still felt like nothing was happening. I then realized that we were straightforwardly moving towards the resolution of the puzzle, and no one was trying to prevent it!

I’m not sure that this is good or bad. It makes for a very intellectual plot, and there is no “thriller” aspect to the book. I found the early twentieth century Chinese-American politics interesting, the 21st century attempts to use technology to find a treasure lost 100 years earlier even more so.

There was one other noteworthy aspect to the book, at least for me. Each of the three sections of the book had a different viewpoint character, and a very different style of writing.

I was very worried as I read the first section– the voice was extremely stuffy, with a very affected use of big words. It fit the character of the professor in the early 1900s perfectly. It simply wasn’t much fun to read. It wasn’t difficult, just distracting. Luckily, the content kept me going.

In the next section, the voice was much smoother. The story started to slow down, but not enough to be a problem.

In the final section, I was interested in the main character, and the voice was readable. My biggest issue with this section was the characters.  Even though we found out a lot about Luke, I never felt like I really knew him. I’m not sure if he was shallow, or if the portrait we had of him was.

This book is different from anything else I’ve read, and the author made some interesting choices along the way.   These provided my with material to think about even when the reading experience wasn’t completely smooth.  All in all, I liked In the Shadow of the Cypress.

Thank you to Sarah at Simon & Schuster  for providing my copy of the book and allowing me to participate in this tour.  I apologize for my delay in posting my review.

For other viewpoints, check out the other tour stops:

These stops didn’t have their posts up yet when mine went up.  I’m not the only one running a little late!


Posted by on April 6, 2010 in books, reviews, tour


Tags: , , ,

3 responses to “Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

  1. Marce

    April 7, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Interesting, that has a lot going on in it, i’m not sure about this one, will have to read some of the other review for this tour.

  2. Pam

    April 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Seems like a good book to read. Especially for us Nor Cal peeps.


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