I love reading historical romance and this one caught my eye with its beautiful cover and its unique setting. Most historicals that I’ve read are American, Canadian or European in backdrop. I loved finding this one that’s set in China.
The other thing that made it sound just adorable is that it is based on the musical My Fair Lady (minus the music). I loved that story and found the idea of combining it with the ancient Chinese culture quite intriguing.
The story begins when Fei Long of the noble Chang family tracks his runaway sister down in a drab provincial tea house. He discovers her with her lover and she begs him to let her go. She is fleeing an arranged state marriage. Fei Long doesn’t have the heart to force her so lets her go, but now he is stuck because if he does not produce his sister as a bride then his family will be disgraced and ruined.
Fei Long’s solution comes in the form of the spunky little servant who douses him with tea when she misunderstood his meaning. The orphaned Lan Yang is thrown out of her job and the only home she has known over the tea incident and excepts his odd offer to make her a princess out of desperation.
The two find their way to an uneasy agreement and Yan begins her Princess lessons with Fei Long as they journey back to the capital city where his family home is. She works very hard and he is all business. Once they reach his city and home, Yan is overwhelmed by everything including the task she has set before her.
Princess lessons continue in earnest when Fei Long asks his friend, Bai Shen to use his acting skills to teach her how to comport herself as a lady. Bai works with her in the morning and they become easy and friendly, but it is those no-nonsense writing lessons in the afternoon with Fei Long that are the highlight of her day. Yan finds that she will work as hard as she can to win even a tight smile from him because she has come to care for him. But Yan knows that in the end he will do his duty and see her off to marry a foreign prince.
Fei Long is burdened by so much in so short a time. His mother’s death a few years ago, his father’s extravagance leading to heavy debt before he died, his sister’s elopement, and now he finds that the finances are worse than he imagined because his father got into debt with a mob lord. The only bright spot in his world are those few precious hours in the afternoon with Lan Yang when he can forget his cares and responsibilities. He tries to shutter his heart against her and keep everything business-like, but her sweet courage and willingness to learn affect him. Will he follow the way of duty and honor or will he follow his heart? Or can he find a way to do both?
The plot follows the general My Fair Lady storyline and there are many similarities that are recognizable, but this is not a re-hash of that story. There are good and strong differences too. It’s a deeper less lighthearted tale because of all the financial trouble Fei Long’s father got the family into and there is that arranged marriage hanging over their heads that might mean severe punishment if they fail let alone cop out of it.
The historical backdrop and culture are well described without being just a pedantic history lesson. I loved how sensual the imagery was with describing the tea ritual to proper decorum to their social activities to their dress.
The characters were the best part for me. I loved both the verbal and non-verbal dialogue that takes place between Fei and Lan. It was great how they progressed from suspicious co-conspirators to doomed star-crossed lovers (don’t freak and run off, it wasn’t Romeo and Juliet type of star-crossed). Dao was a nice friend to Lan in her new and frightening circumstances, but the character that I thought was so adorable was Bai. He is a complete scene-stealer. Every person should have such a friend. Light-hearted and fun, full of canny wisdom and common sense, but also the guy who has your back when the chips are down (even after you punch him and toss him out of your house in a jealous rage).
Oh, I should point out that this is the third book in the Tang Dynasty series, but it can definitely be read as a stand alone.
I heartily recommend this story for the historical romance lover or you contemporary types who love the My Fair Lady plot
Many Thanks to Net Galley for sending along this book for review purposes.