This has a little more of the political situation than the first book. The author creates a character well, but as far as making her a sympathetic character, well, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. She was still an evil ruler.
Review: (THIS FIRST PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS) This is the second and final book in Anchee Min's series about Empress Orchid and the Chi'ing Dynasty in China. I must admit I was very much looking forward to reading it because I loved the first book, Empress Orchid, because of how it drew me in with all the details of scenery and lifestyle of what life was like in China for royal women during this time period. However this book had a very different feel to it. From the very beginning The Empress is faced with struggles such as losing her favorite eunuch, (who was plotted against by those she should have been able to trust) followed by the death of her only son, then the death of her fellow wife who is the first ranking empress and who was her rival in many things. And finally when she has picked her sister's son as a replacement for the throne finding him inadequate for the role he must play, and he ends up dying before her in the end.
The Last Empress to my taste was written in a very different style than the first book in the series; it felt like a lot of political events and wars surrounded by a few pages of what the empress or other main characters might be feeling. While there were many good scenes, such as when she rescues her sister's son from his abusive mother and declares him the next heir, there seemed to be far more historical "information" in the book than I was expecting compared to the first novel, which disappointed me, however it was still a very good read. If you read the first book, Empress Orchid I think it is worth it to finish up the story and read the Last Empress just DO NOT expect the same writing style.
The book is well written, but got very long towards the end. I must read if you love Chinese history.