secret language of women book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

The Secret Language of Women is a novel full of love, beauty, intrigue and deception. Zhou Bin Lian is different from her peers. Born to a Chinese mother and a Swiss father, Lian has striking green eyes that make her a bit of an anomaly in China in the 1800s. Lian also assists her father, a doctor, with his practice and is a skilled healer. When her father is called to treat an Italian diplomat who has fallen ill, Lian meets a handsome Italian sailor and her life will never be the same. After meeting Giacomo, Lian’s life fills with light, even though it ultimately is short-lived and the connection that the two share is enjoyable to witness/watch unfurl.

Even though Lian is in love with Giacomo, she is promised to marry another and when it is discovered she does not have bound feet, she is forced into factory work and ultimately, misery. Lian’s new in-laws refuse to let her practice as a healer, treat her poorly and decide to raise her daughter without much involvement from Lian. Lian’s life, once so full of beauty and promise, now seems like a distant memory. The only thing that seems to save Lian is her memories of Giacomo, her hopes for the future and her use of the secret language of women, Nushu, that she uses to fill pages with her thoughts, aspirations and the words of her true self that she ultimately needs to keep hidden. These writings become her saving grace when she has little else. As time marches on, Lian finds strength and solstice in unexpected ways and the novel twists and turns as she comes into her own and finds her peace, love and power.

The Secret Language of Women is the first novel in the Wayfarer trilogy and while I am not sure where the next books in the series will go, author Nina Romano is a master of character creation, landscape description and fills her story with adventure. At times, there almost seems to be a mist over the words as the reader reads on to see what is to come as the mist fades and the story unfolds. Lian is a careful, thoughtful and quietly powerful main character that is developed well from start to finish.

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Turner. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.