Category: Reading & Critique

Tai-Pan by James Clavell

“I’m saying that some men are saints. Some are happy being meek and humble and unambitious. Some men are born content to be second-best.”


I finished James Cavell’s Tai-Pan today and it immediately skyrocketed to the top of my favorites. A masterpiece of action, history, intrigue, adventure, and romance. Most of all it had an epic ending that blew me away, unlike more recent writers that seem to choke at the finish line.

Tai-Pan is an epic historical novel about the opium trader Dirk Struan, who is loosely based on William Jardine, and  the founding of Hong Kong in 1841. It follows Dirk as he maneuvers, rival traders, corrupt Chianese authorities, close minded British politicians, and pirates, in order to solidify the dominance of his trading company, Noble House, and ensure the success of Hong Kong as a lasting colony.

A massive novel filled with violence, pirates, romance, incest, and political intrigue that would teach Littlefinger a lesson or two. Nestled into the main plot are several interesting side plots including one of the best tragic romances I have read and a very well done father-son plotline. All of the plot threads subtly come together and are fantastically wrapped up during the epic finale.

Most of all the main character, Dirk Struan, stands out as one of the most badass characters I have ever read. He is the ultimate model of a great leader. Tough but fair, able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the people around him allowing him to put each man to proper use. Dirk is a model hero who has the foresight to understand that Hong Kong is a vital port and must be protected. He also embraces the best of Chianese culture and mixes it with his own striving for a future where British and Chianese live together benefiting each other.

I have a feeling it will be a long time until Tai-Pan gets dethroned as my favorite book. It had everything I want in a great story and everything I aspire to include in my own writing. Read it. Read it now.