NOTE: I was given early access to this manuscript in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you netgalley and MacMillan-Tor/Forge. Publication Date: May 10, 2022. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
This is a powerfully written, deeply emotional exploration of an ambitious Chinese woman who will stop at nothing to achieve stardom in Hollywood. It belongs to a genre that was unfamiliar to me: adult historical fantasy. So while it tells the story of Luli Wei’s professional rise, from a child playing bit parts to lead actress under the old “studio system” — it also contains actions that fall squarely into the realm of make-believe. I assume that since this is set in Hollywood, including make-believe in the story is exactly what author Nghi Vo thought most appropriate.
An Asian woman in 1930s Hollywood was something of an anomaly, chiefly because of widespread racism. The powerful wolves that ran the big studios did not know quite what to do with Luli Wei. But Luli is smart and persistent and manages to avoid the traditional pitfalls of rising stars, chiefly by using the very same tricks employed by the powerful.
The novel is a downright ugly glimpse into Hollywood, where hedonism reigns, where actors rise and fall on the whim of an executive, and where people sometimes disappear mysteriously. It’s a place full of LGBTQ folks, all of whom are forced to hide that part of themselves, continually fearful of being outed to the public. Yet, at the same time, everyone seems to know who they really are.
The big strength of this book for me was the writing. But the genre of adult historical fantasy is not one I plan to explore further.
More about the author, Nghi Vo.