Despite the fearsomeness of the historical figure, Chang-Eppig’s Shek Yeung is pensive and passive ... In combat and at sea, the novel remains impersonal, and most events are narrated rather than experienced ... The strength of Chang-Eppig’s book is the extensive research that colors it ... The book’s weaknesses include erratic pacing and unskillful language. Though the final third of the novel flows smoothly, earlier battles and conversations are broken up by paragraphs of exposition, dissipating interest. Because the novel’s sentences are rough-hewn, and anything that happens is relentlessly explained, with little left for the reader to interpret or infer, the book gives the impression of having been written for a younger audience ... Many readers will find the subject matter sufficiently attractive to overlook the faults.
This fascinating portrait of a woman determined to survive no matter the challenge will captivate readers' imaginations. Shek Yeung is a smart, ruthless, and pragmatic heroine ... Chang-Eppig emphasizes the logic of piracy in China during a time when land annexations drove many farmers to meager lives on fishing boats, and then to raiding other vessels. However, she never romanticizes their lives at sea, striving instead for a realistic imagining of an often cutthroat existence.
There are many moments of real lyrical beauty in this novel. While it might be anachronistic to expect a pirate queen to spend a lot of time in introspection, Shek Yeung never quite emerges as a fully formed character—and, given that the story is told from her point of view, the other characters are flat and opaque, as well ... Those looking for a rich story may have trouble caring about these details without a three-dimensional, compelling protagonist.9