The Noble House is in financial trouble and the fate of Hong Kong rests on what will happen to it. Takes place during one week in 1963 Hong Kong -- a brief period which encompasses murder, kidnapping, fire, flood, the opium trade, and a brutal power struggle.
The purpose of the Asian Saga was to tell "the story of the Anglo-Saxon in Asia" and four of the six books—Tai-Pan, Gai-Jin, Noble House, and Whirlwind—follow the dealings of the great trading company Struan's, the Noble House of Asia (based on Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited), its founder Dirk Struan, and his various descendants.
The full series of books and their settings is:
• Shōgun: set in feudal Japan in 1600 and published in 1975.
• Tai-Pan: set in Hong Kong in 1841 and published in 1966.
• Gai-Jin: set in Japan in 1862 and published in 1993.
• King Rat: set in a Japanese POW camp in Singapore in 1945 and published in 1962.
• Noble House: set in Hong Kong in 1963 and published in 1981.
• Whirlwind: set in Iran in 1979 and published in 1986.
Noble House is a vast, sprawling novel covering a little over one week in time in more than 1,200 pages. There are many characters, some consequential to the story and some not, all with complex and often interrelated family histories and relationships. These characters appear, disappear and re-appear in the narrative flow and it is all but impossible to keep track of them all. The overall plot is straightforward: Ian Dunross, tenth tai-pan of Struan’s, finds his company the target of a hostile takeover from his arch-rival Quillan Gornt at a time when it is desperately overextended. He negotiates a business link with an American company, both to ward off the takeover attempt and to extend Struan’s reach globally. He is also embroiled in international espionage when he finds himself in possession of secret documents desperately desired by both the KGB and MI6.
This is a top class blockbuster novel. The depth, detail and narrative drive all act to pull you in and make you care about what is going on. The sizeof the novel was daunting at first, but by the end I wanted it to be even longer. Clavell clearly adores Asia and his love and respect for the people, their way of life and their traditions shines from every page. In many ways the star of Noble House is not Ian Dunross or any of the other characters, but Hong Kong itself.
The business wheeler-dealing is the heart of the book and is both fascinating and exciting. The intense desire to move forwards, to better oneself, to be rich, to win, makes for a heady mixture that puts everyone into a slightly manic state as they react to the events as they unfold. The plot line about espionage and the clashing of East and West in the Cold War was less successful.
I missed the cultural clash that was evident in Clavell's previous Asia-based books, the only one here being the difficulty the Hong Kong businessmen had accepting the American businesswoman. That I thought was handled perfectly.
A sort of sequel to Tai-Pan, Noble House is much like Clavell's other novels and so you should know what you're getting into here.
The story is among its many competitors. It combines a good amount of fiction, legend and big business and produces a great novel. The struggle between the two great houses sets up the conflict that any great piece of fiction requires. The reader is placed into a world that no longer exists - doubly so since Hong Kong has been returned to Chinese control. It is a world where Tai-Pans - heads of large companies battle each other for money, power and survival. This is international gamesmanship at its highest level with no holds barred. Add gunrunning, opium smuggling, political intrigue, natural disasters, and riots, and the story keeps rolling along. Hong Kong itself sets the backdrop for the novel and in the end its Hong Kong the affects the outcome of the struggle. The book is as fast-paced as any I have ever read and reminds me of the sort of Romantic swash-buckling adventures of Dumas and Sabatini.
If you haven't read a James Clavell novel start with this one or Shogun.
The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes–fire, flood, landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong–the heart of Asia–rich in every trade…money, flesh, opium, power.