#BookReview: Lord of Formosa by Joyce Bergvelt

Biographic Historical
War Era Historical

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media

The year is 1624. In southwestern Taiwan the Dutch establish a trading settlement; in Nagasaki a boy is born who will become immortalized as Ming dynasty loyalist Koxinga. Lord of Formosa tells the intertwined stories of Koxinga and the Dutch colony from their beginnings to their fateful climax in 1662. The year before, as Ming China collapsed in the face of the Manchu conquest, Koxinga retreated across the Taiwan Strait intent on expelling the Dutch. Thus began a nine-month battle for Fort Zeelandia, the single most compelling episode in the history of Taiwan. The first major military clash between China and Europe, it is a tale of determination, courage, and betrayal – a battle of wills between the stubborn Governor Coyett and the brilliant but volatile Koxinga. Although the story has been told in non-fiction works, these have suffered from a lack of sources on Koxinga as the little we know of him comes chiefly from his enemies.

While adhering to the historical facts, author Joyce Bergvelt sympathetically and intelligently fleshes out Koxinga. From his loving relationship with his Japanese mother, estrangement from his father (a Chinese merchant pirate), to his struggle with madness, we have the first rounded, intimate portrait of the man.

Dutch-born Bergvelt draws on her journalism background, Chinese language and history studies, and time in Taiwan, to create an irresistible panorama of memorable characters caught up in one of the seventeenth century’s most fascinating dramas.

I did a bit of a double take when I stumbled across Joyce Bergvelt's Lord of Formosa. Off the top of my head, I couldn't remember ever encountering a historical novel set in Taiwan and in all honestly, I was intrigued. This was a novel that promised to venture far from the beaten and I wasn't about to miss out.

I knew nothing about the history of Taiwan when I picked up this book. The story also takes place in China and Japan which I knew a little about, but for the most part, I was flying blind. Having said that, I was pleased to discover my lack of familiarity with the subject matter didn't hinder my experience of the narrative. Bergvelt took great care to illustrate the culture, politics, and policies that shaped Dutch Formosa without heavy-handed exposition. The story is easy to absorb even for those encountering the material for the first time.

Bergvelt's characters are equally compelling. Koxinga and Coyett boast genuine depth and I finished the novel feeling as though I understood more than one side of the story. History itself is not black and white and it was nice to discover an author who acknowledged the multi-faceted nature of her subject matter. This is definitely not the norm and lent a refreshing quality to the narrative.

In sum, I loved the time I spent with this book and hope to more from Bergvelt very soon. Highly Recommended.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Publisher Submitted ARC
Read: April 26, 2018

"I am a soldier, just as you are... And mandarin. And merchant. And pirate."