Book Review: Lord of Formosa
Lord of Formosa begins in 1624 and relays the sweeping saga of a boy born in the same year in Nagasaki, Japan at the same time as the Dutch were creating a trading settlement in southwestern Taiwan. The Dutch become the first European colonists to settle on Taiwan. One man is destined to bring it all to an end.
At a young age, our young protagonist, Zheng Shan, the son of a wealthy Chinese merchant and a Japanese woman, meets a fortune teller in Japan who promises him a rich and exciting life, full of pleasure, surprises, and the conquering of a mysterious land far away. He is also destined to pay an immense price for his future role with the island of Taiwan.
Zheng Shan moves to China to follow his destiny and eventually becomes known as the Ming dynasty warrior, Koxinga, “Lord of the Imperial Surname”.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is under the control of the Dutch East India Company and the political tension between Taiwan, the Netherlands, and China in the 1600s is fierce.
The Dutch colony in Taiwan extends from 1624 to 1662. Their trading post in Taiwan in the 17th century controls the island, causing trouble with taxes and trading and leading to further problems with indigenous Taiwanese, local Chinese, and other traders on the island.
Mainland China is at war as the Manchus clash with the Ming dynasty and the Manchus are slowly but surely winning the war. As Ming supporters flee mainland China and leave for Taiwan and other islands in the area, Koxinga is building his army and getting ready for battle. As Koxinga’s strength increases, the Dutch are losing strength because of problems within their own camps.
At this time, Koxinga is also suffering from severe health issues and he sees a Dutch physician for help with his ailments. The prescribed remedies do not work and Koxinga’s temper and attitude becomes increasingly unstable. His health does not stop him from his dreams of glory, however.
Koxinga eventually drives The Dutch East India Company off the island and takes the island by force, thereby becoming the ruler and lord of Taiwan. The story comes around full circle when the prophecy comes true with Koxinga’s death shortly after he removed the Dutch from Taiwan.
The main characters in this novel are well known figures in Taiwan’s history and have been referenced by the author in several ways, including the perspectives of the people involved. For example, Bergvelt draws references and information from Frederick Coyett’s Neglected Formosa, a book that was written by the last Dutch governor of Formosa who surrendered Formosa to Koxinga. Bergvelt does an impressive job of weaving fact and fiction together into a seamless story about a part of history that isn’t well known to most people.
Lord of Formosa is well written, rich with facts and impressive story-telling, and it is extremely well researched. I think anyone interested in historical fiction will enjoy Lord of Formosa. I’m looking forward to Bergvelt’s next book.