The Golden Hairpin

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

To read Chinese novels you must put your assumptions aside. Just as Russian novels do not have the same structure and goals as European or North American novels (which themselves have many variations), Chinese novels are based on a different aesthetic. If you are to appreciate them, you must embrace these differences.

From the back of the novel we read that Qingham Ce Ce is a celebrated Chinese novelist who publishes in print and online. She writes novels overlooking "1000 years of history" with the goal of engaging every reader's emotions. This is the first of her novels to be translated from Mandarin into English. Mr. Woodward's heroic effort to translate between these languages and novelistic traditions makes the book emotionally accessible to western readers, although there is no avoiding the wooden plotting and somewhat stilted dialogue that are artifacts of Chinese style.

In "The Golden Hairpin" Ms Qingham evokes pity for the characters who in their rise from poverty and misery to wealth and fame lose their humanity, eventually sinking to murder, which, in the tradition of tragedy, destroys them. We are introduced to Huang Zixia, a young woman who has been falsely accused of murdering her entire family in Western China. To save herself, she flees to the capital where she disguises herself as a young eunuch and begins a career as a bureaucrat. She comes to the attention of the Prince of Kui who guesses her identity. As a young teen, Huang Zixia gained some national fame by helping her magistrate father solve a local mystery so in exchange for his silence, the Prince of Kui requires that Huang Zixia help him solve some murders in the capital. If she succeeds, he might help her uncover the truth about her murdered family.

The murder story gets more and more complex as Huang Zixia explores, and the finale is very dramatic and full of human pain. I can see why it is popular in China. You will like it if you can enjoy the style.
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I couldn't put this book down-- I had to keep reading to see how the mysteries with few clues would be solved. The heroine is plucky and there is very slight nuanced romance. The translation is well done, but because it's translated well, it might be harder to read for the typical Western person who is not familiar with the setting of imperial China and the complicated court dynamics and customs. I am definitely excited to see the upcoming TV adaptation in Chinese, as well as the rest of the novels in this series.
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Golden Hairpin was very fun-a quick paced mystery through (possibly Western Han Dynasty) imperial China. The anachronistic mannerisms and dialogue might irk some but I was caught up in the mystery-plan to read the next one
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I loved the spunky main character, It started off very good and full of promise but the end didn't keep my attention. Still, I enjoyed reading the book and the story was well thought out.
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This book is so full of tropes in the funnest best possible way. The plot is so enjoyable but I personally felt it needed a lot of editing to streamline the reading process.
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There are a lot of historical mysteries on the market these days, but not so many set in ancient China. And of those, how many, in English, were originally written by a Chinese author for a Chinese audience? The Golden Hairpin by Qinghan CeCe, originally written in 2015 and translated into English just this year, is a suspense novel starring a  Sherlockian female detective.

Huang Zixia, our heroine, is nineteen years old and accused of murdering her family as a protest against her unwanted engagement. So she travels across part of the country to Changan city to find the Prince of Kui, Li Shubai, to get his assistance in finding out who really killed them. To try and remain as inconspicuous as possible, Huang Zixia dresses as a man, and plays the part of a eunuch to continue her investigations. As one does.

Once in Changan city, Huang Zixia manages to get a meeting with Li Shubai, but he is reluctant to help her. In exchange for giving her a chance, Li Shubai gives Huang Zixia a task - solve the “Four Directions case”, where a serial killer has murdered three victims and is expected to kill another within the week. She has ten days.

The overall story is built both on lucky happenstance (Huang Zixia disguises herself as a guard, and gets assigned to the exact person she needs to see!) and amazing insight on our female detective’s part. Huang Zixia is a bit on the timid side, but determined and smart, managing to stay on just the right side of 'plucky girl detective' while solving  an unsolvable mystery. Helping her, along with Li Shubai (who aids her in spite of his seeming reluctance), is Zhou Ziqin, a young doctor-in-training who digs up dead bodies on the side. Again, as you do. Zhou Ziqin is an interesting character, if nothing else than because he’s in love with Huang Zixia, or at least with the image of her. Throughout all of this, Huang Zixia is disguised as a eunuch named Yang Chonggu, and Zhou Ziqin constantly professes his love of Huang Zixia to Yang Chonggu, who is, in fact, Huang Zixia.

After solving the unsolvable, however, Huang Zixia is entangled in another mystery - the new fiancée of Li Shubai is first threatened, then disappears, and then found murdered in something of a sealed room mystery. This new conundrum brings Huang Zixia and Li Shubai together again to solve the problem, along with a pipa player (a pipa seems to be an instrument similar to a western lute), Li Shubai’s past, Huang Zixia’s former fiancé, and the empress. It’s actually kinda fascinating.

Overall, it’s amazing how all these little strings of plot come together, and it seems so random at the time, but it works. The only issue I had was that the story doesn’t really flow. Maybe it’s an effect of the translation process, maybe it’s a cultural difference that I had difficulty with as a reader, I’m really not sure, but as a result the process of reading this book ends up feeling a bit piecemeal.

Something I found particularly interesting, especially as a romance reader, was that readers aren't shown much of the characters’ inner lives. There’s work involved for the reader, looking between the lines to try and figure out how Huang Zixia feels about something or what Li Shubai is thinking, but it works.

I would definitely recommend this for a fan of historical mysteries or for someone who is interested in something different from the more easily found Regency setting. And it’s the first in a four-book series, so there’s plenty more to come! I, for one, am eager to see what happens next in Huang Zixia’s story.

Buy it at: Amazon
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If Sherlock Holmes was an Asian teenage girl living circa 1800 who'd lost his family to a Moriartiesque villain that may or may not be involved with the Chinese aristocracy, this would be the novel that produced. It's a entertaining who done it that keeps you guessing.
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This is a story that delivers what it promises: a strong female character with a penchant for getting into difficult situations. This wasn't a perfect book but it had many positives to it.

I really liked this story. It had a great blend of history with mystery. Huang Zixia is certainly a smart heroine, and I felt that her personality shone through even as it was restrained by her cultural setting. I loved how much detail was given to the historical backdrop of the story as it gave me a glimpse of what life might have been like in Ancient China (albeit with some liberties taken for the sake of making this an exciting tale)! I found myself really enjoying the way the story unfolded, with all of the different clues coming together. There were times when I found it a little confusing to keep track of all of the characters and their relationships, but that was to be expected when many of the characters had similar surnames. 

My one qualm with this novel was the language. Now, I don't know if this is a criticism to be aimed at the writer or the translator, but the language of the novel seemed at times to be at odds with the historical setting of the book. Many of the phrases used in this book were too modern to work, and it really took away from the story. 

Overall, I think this was an interesting story with a great blend of history and mystery. I only wish that the language of the novel had been more fitting for the setting of the story. I really liked the characters and the flow of the story. I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction and mystery, and I'm giving this a 3/5 stars!
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3.5 rounded up to 4

The Golden Hairpin is going to be adapted into a China produced drama, which is how it initially attracted my attention. There is a dearth of Chinese fictional historical novels being professionally translated so this one is exciting. The Golden Hairpin has a young female protagonist Huang Zixia who was a child prodigy at solving criminal cases. Unfortunately her family was murdered by poisoning, she is a fugitive when we first encounter her as she is the main suspect. Inadvertently, she enters the carriage of the Prince of Kui and gets roped into helping him solve imperial criminal cases in exchange for his help in clearing her name. 

The story and its elements are fairly typical of its genre. Cross-dressing intelligent and quick-witted female, cold powerful prince (whose heart is thawed out by our plucky heroine), palace intrigue, second male lead. Warning: the list of characters at the end of the book actually contains the main spoiler of the plot. Some minor spelling mistakes (e.g. 'relived' instead of 'relieved') and grammatical errors but nothing major. 

I don't think it's meant to be historically accurate. It is highly doubtful that eunuchs could have that level of power and freedom in the imperial palace. As well, autopsies were not sanctioned in that time period because of the belief that it violated the body. The length of this novel is relatively short so it was a quick entertaining read. 

Thanks to Netgalley, AmazonCrossing and the author for an advanced copy of the book for review.
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This is such a delightful read. Unfinished it in less than a day. The writing is fun , fast paced and full of good humour. There is a good storyline and plot backed with solid mystery element all through the book. I look forward to the sequel. The names are a little overwhelming but if you ignore the side cast , it's an easy sail.
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When browsing through “Read Now” titles on NetGalley, The Golden Hairpin’s cover really stood out to me. I know, you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover; but who can resist anything with a spooky birdcage on it? The other two reviews listed on NetGalley were vague (a two and a four) and I wasn't sure what I was going to get myself into. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised! Although I struggled through the first five chapters, I felt like I was reading a Nancy Drew novel held in Imperial China. Huang Zixia really held her own throughout the entire book. Especially, when she had to interact with the cold Li Shubai (whom I kept picturing as Shang from Mulan) as much as she did.

Although I did enjoy the plot to The Golden Hairpin, there were quite a few things that bothered me about the novel. The first being, within the first chapter, they mentioned how Huang Zixia was charged with murdering her family four times. In total,  the entire story of the poisoning was mentioned at least five more times, if not more (I stopped counting when I finally felt myself thinking “ugh. this again?” It seemed like the tell was being used as the way to only put words on the pages instead of assisting in the plot.

The second thing I did not like was the pacing of the novel. As I mentioned earlier, I really struggled through the first five chapters. That is because I honestly had no idea what was going on. Somehow, between everyone talking about how Huang Zixia supposedly murdered her family to avoid marrying Wang Yun, she somehow solved the Four Directions Case with hardly any evidence. Part of this could have been due to the translation not corresponding well into English.

Overall, I gave The Golden Hairpin 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I will not be purchasing this novel to add to my collection when a physical copy comes out. And even though I am still extremely pissed off about the major cliffhanger, I probably would not read the second book if one comes out. Personally, I do think that this novel would be better suited if categorized as YA instead of General Fiction (Adult). I could see high-schoolers enjoying this as a “gateway” mystery/thriller to some more intense psychological thrillers. Those who are already big psychological thriller or crime novel fans probably should give The Golden Hairpin a pass.
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I'm not sure what I thought of this one.  It started well, but maybe the juxtaposition of modern language and behavior with traditional culture failed to keep me engaged.  I liked the feisty and determined little protagonist, but some parts of the plot didn't make sense to me.  Maybe my problem was partly a result of the translation.  I wanted to love it and for a while, I thought I might, but something just felt off.
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A strong start to what appears to be an excellent series with a female Sherlock Holmes-esque heroine, plucky, determined, and cunning while maintaining a strict sense of self and without sacrificing her feminity. The Golden Hairpin is a wonderful read from the characters to the background of historical China.

If I had to choose a complaint, it would be that the pacing is long and dragged out. And that it left on quite the cliffhanger!

I'm hoping we see more in the future, and I am excited to read and review the next book in the series!
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