Aussie ex-pat Emma Donahue loves teaching the small students who attend Miss Kwok's Hong Kong kindergarten, but Simone Chen holds a special place in her heart. Her businessman father has filled all Emma's private teaching periods, and when an argument with Miss Kwok results in Emma resigning she's grateful but unsurprised when he offers her a full-time nanny position. Emma is attracted to John Chen, although he's older than her and a widower. But she senses something unusual about his household - the sheer wealth, American bodyguard and strange visitors are not strange for Hong Kong but Emma senses something else.
John Chen is a Shen, a god-like immortal being. Known as Xuan Wu,the Black Turtle, he "is Emperor of the Northern Heavens, ruler of a quarter of the sky; he also owns a complete Mountain in Heaven, on the Celestial Plane." Somewhere along the line he has lost part of himself, the Serpent, but is still a powerful and great Shen. But when he married Michelle, Simone's American mother, he promised he would not take True Form. Though she was killed by demons, Xuan Hu has kept his promise but without returning to the Celestial Plane he grown ever-weaker and his enemies, spurred on by the demon king's vow to promote whoever kills him, are intent on his destruction. Chief among them are the king's son, Simon Wong - wily, powerful and determined, he launches a series of attacks of an unprecedented ferocity and has his eye on using Simone, Emma and John's household to get to the Shen.
One of the richest, most textured novels I've read in a long time, White Tiger is a romance, an adventure, the opening of a paranormal series, and an exploration of Chinese culture, religion and mythology. The writing is exquisite, the dialogue rings true, the characters leap off the page, the action is vivid and the plot is engaging.
One of the aspects of White Tiger (one of the other four Shen) that I particularly liked was the twist on that hoary staple of paranormal romances, most notable in the Twilight series - John and Emma can't consummate their relationship because his diminishing energy means that, without barriers between them, he would be helplessly unable to avoid draining her energy. The only solution is for him to return to True Form and depart Earth for the Celestial Plane and return to his full power - a move that would mean an absence of anywhere between ten and one hundred years.
I am unable to convey the layers of texture and the seamless integration of Chinese culture in this novel. I can only imagine how much more satisfying this would be is the culture and religious stories White Tiger is rooted in were mine, but through her outsider heroine Chan does a brilliant job of incorporating enough detail to make these aspects accessible. As soon as I finished White Tiger I reserved the next two in the series - reviews of Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon to follow shortly. - Alex