White Tiger by Kylie Chan – Review

Book Jacket:

Action, intrigue, demons and dragons

Kylie Chan creates a fast and furious story balanced between the celestial and the mortal, the powerful and the innocent…

Emma Donahoe has just started her new job as nanny to Simone, the daughter of John Chen, a very rich Hong Kong businessman.

She understands that Simone may be a target for kidnappers but she does not expect to be drawn into a world of martial arts, magic and extreme danger, where both gods and demons can exist in the mortal domain.

When John and his American bodyguard, Leo, teach Emma their particular style of martial arts, they begin to realize that Emma herself is more than she seems…

You can read an excerpt here.


How I loved the idea of this book – an urban fantasy set in Hong Kong, based on Chinese mythology, with lots of cool martial arts sequences? I was practically doing cartwheels. But sadly, White Tiger is not the book I wanted it to be.

Still White Tiger is not a book entirely without merit – I very much enjoyed the training sessions and fight sequences, and the ways in which the story brings Chinese mythology to life. Chan’s first hand knowledge of Hong Kong and Chinese culture shines through, from the fantastic scenery to the meals to the customs, and it makes for a wonderful exploration of a place most of us have never been. There also was plenty of googly romantic eye gazing to enjoy, and fun banter. But sadly, while all these merits were enough to mostly balance out the bad, they just weren’t enough to tip the scales to good.

And now we come to the bad: really my biggest problem with this book is the way in which it hits the same beats over and over and OVER again. In the beginning, Emma quickly figures out exactly who John is, but she never moves forward – instead she just proves it to herself again and again and again, and so the story spectacularly stalls for 100 pages. (Sidebar: I did like that Chan tried to make Emma’s realization as momentous as it should be, but instead of exploring Emma’s reaction and coping, Emma just comes across as clueless.) Likewise, I think every single character in this book at some point exclaims how cute and perfect and special Simone is – ad nauseam. YES, we GET it already! Good lord, how I wanted that girl to have at least one bratty moment, one genuine child-like pout or tantrum. Then there’s the ways in which John and Leo STUPIDLY keep crucial info from Emma, over and over and over again (and don’t even get me started on how RIDICULOUSLY long it took Emma to start martial arts training…) And the number of times Emma and John are told how stupid they are for falling in love, and how it won’t end well – just hit us over the head with a board, why don’t you? But the repeat beat that really made me lose my cool and gnash my teeth was how the male characters of this story kept exclaiming their amazement at how Emma could keep her head in a crises, like it was SO impossible to believe a woman could be that strong, even after Emma had done it five times already. I mean, REALLY? It just made me want to slap Leo and John every time they said it… And look at that, I just beat my point into the ground for an entire paragraph, past the point of blatant obviousness, which I am now doing again, even though you’d already gotten my point – ANNOYING, isn’t it? Welcome to the style of White Tiger! And YES, it vexed me grievously.

As for the characters, there was nothing not to like – but that was rather the problem. Simone was TOO perfect, John was TOO good, Emma was TOO self sacrificing, and Leo TOO belligerent. I did like Emma, for the ways in which she called John and Leo on their BS, and for her self-determination in general, but she didn’t feel three dimensional to me. And yes, John makes a perfectly sexy love interest, but honestly my favorite relationship of this book was the friendship that formed between Emma and Leo. The ways they smart mouth each other are fun. 

So no, this is not a perfect story, nor a tightly plotted one (don’t even get me started on the random vignettes where Emma goes out to lunch with her friends), but if you have an abiding love of martial arts movies and happen to shamelessly enjoy guilty pleasure style bad romantic movies, I think you can still enjoy this book. But fair warning: you have to be in a mindless, beach read, popcorn kind of mood going in.

And so, despite it all, I do still think I will be reading the next books in this series. There is definitely promise here, and the premise is strong enough to lure me back for more, but I SINCERELY hope the execution improves the next time around.

Byrt Grade: B, but toeing the line of a B-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Escape Pod says:

In short, White Tiger had a good hook, a good premise, but suffered from bloat, and I just got bored with the repetition. If an editor had cut 100 pages, it probably would have held my interest.

Nocturnal Book Revews says:

I think that people who like me grew up on enormous amount of Hong Kong movies will love it. People who went to Asia and saw with their own eyes that alien for Westerners multi-layered culture will love it. For everyone else it’s a gamble.

Read in a Single Sitting says:

I wanted to enjoy this book far more than I did. My interest is easily piqued by anything set in a foreign country, and particularly one with whose culture I have some familiarity, and given my boyfriend’s love of wuxia and kung fu comedy (Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan are regular guests in our home), I was ready for a rollicking good ride. While White Tiger does indeed offer some fun and pacy action, and it certainly barrels along at an impressive pace (I churned through its 500-and-something pages in one [admittedly long] evening), the book suffers from a number of issues that make me reluctant to put it out there as a great Hong Kong-based urban fantasy novel.