The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jeannie Lin creates an intriguing, immersive world of the Pikang li, where the most unlikely of bedfellows (literally and figuratively) can lead to the love of a lifetime.
Failed scholar Bai Huang and maidservant Yue-ying, a former prostitute known as "half-moon" for the wine colored birthmark that tints part of her jaw, join forces to find the truth behind the murder of a famed courtesan. The greater mystery, however, is the undeniable bond that forms between the two outcasts, finding in each other the place where they truly belong.
The course of true love, however, never does run smooth, and Ms. Lin makes effective and poignant use of the stringent rules that shape both respectable society and the separate world of the Pikang li. Bai Huang's life is set out before him, and there is no room for one such as Yue-ying, who hopes only to remain as a maidservant. Even the status of concubine is out of her reach, and yet....
The passion in this book builds at a deliciousky decorous pace, not will they/won't they, but should they/shouldn't they until one soul shaking rain-soaked kiss proves the rule of love is the one that must be obeyed above all.
Whether a reader is new to the intricate, intoxicating world of Tang Dynasty China, or already acquainted with Ms. Lin's stories, The Lotus Palace is not to be missed.
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After reading a few Jeannie Lin books, a reader starts to wonder why there aren't more historical romance novels set in Tang Dynasty China. Seriously. With The Lotus Palace, the ever-amazing Ms. Lin entices readers into the lushly imagined world of the pleasure quarter, where courtesans, servants, scholars, villains and heroes intermingle and secrets abound.
Can I resist that kind of lure? Heck, no. I cut my reading teeth on Bertrice Small's The Kadin, and other novels where the settings were varied and scattered all over the globe, and I loved it. Over time, things changed, and the vast majority of my favorite genre settled somewhat comfortably into nineteenth century England, give or take a few decades.
Fair enough. There are some great authors who write wonderful stories in those settings. Still, my ears prick when I hear of something that blends the best of old school and current romances. Which is why I remembered meeting a friend of a friend at NECRWA a few years back, a quick "hi, person, this is other person" thing which gave way to the standard writer's conference icebreaker, a game we call "what do you write?" This person responded "historicals," which elicited a nod of recognition, because hey, I write historicals, and that advances to round two, "what era?" This is where things get fun.
The answer, in this case, was "Tang Dynasty China." I have to say I think my ears actually perked, but my hair probably covered it. Other person in this case was, of course, Jeannie Lin, and I knew then and there that I was going to have to read that book. Did I already know very much about Tang Dynasty China? Nope, not at that time, but that's one of the great things about historical romance. There's a whole wide world of it, and I say if an author has a chance to fling back the doors of history and splash out a gorgeous love story in a period that is close to her (or his; I've met some very talented gents at these conferences as well) heart, then I say not only "do," but "please do." Please oh so very much do.
Because here's the thing; the story of two people finding their ideal other half isn't restricted to one time or place. I want to be taken into another world, introduced around, well fed, learn the customs and the history and see how "ohhhh, this is going to get complicated for Our Lovers because X is going to happen, and X cannot happen between them because of reason Y, but I love them and they have to be together and I am going to stay up all night and read this entire book to make sure that they do."