There are a few reasons that I read historical romances with one of the obvious being that I love romances set against a historical backdrop. I have come to lower my expectations over the years to accommodate the fact that while many people are good at writing romance, few are good at writing a romance set against a well written historical backdrop. And now I come to the point…Jeannie Lin is one of those few because she writes a wonderful historical setting, a tight and engaging plot, and colorful and deep characters who both attract me and win my sympathies toward them. I devoured this story and it left me with that wonderful feeling that a reader both loves and dreads- longing for more and knowing there will be a wait until he/she can get it.
The story is set in 847 AD China during the Tang Dynasty and its focus is on the pleasure district of the city known as the Pingkang Li. China had beautiful, cultured courtesans who rivaled the later Japanese Geishas for their grace and sophistry. Yue-ying is a mere servant in the Lotus Palace to one of the four famed beauties of the Pingkang Li. She serves quietly and is above all loyal to her mistress who is a popular draw amongst the great and wealthy men of the city. Her quiet life is upheaved when a murder takes place. One of the men, Bai Huang, who is a frequent visitor at the Lotus Palace engages her help to solve the murder because he recognizes her talent for observation and her sensible street smarts when it comes to the district. Yue-ying reluctantly agrees, but in the process starts to learn that there is way more to Bai Huang than she at first surmised. He isn’t the wastrel and empty-headed son of an aristocrat that he pretends to be not that she bought into his disguise completely from the get-go. He also surprises her when she discovers that it was she that had his interest all along.
Huang wants to solve the murder as a last act of justice for the girl he couldn’t help in life. Getting Yue-ying to help him is just a bonus. He recognizes her worth from almost the moment he sets eyes on her inspite of her humble status, her past and the vivid birthmark on her cheek. If only he can get her to let down her guard and accept his interest instead of showing him cold, disinterested politeness. He is encouraged and discouraged in turn as each time they are together she opens a little more each time, but continues to hold him at arm’s length emotionally. She routinely points out the gap in their status and that being in her company will hurt his reputation. He wants more than anything to prove they have a future together even if he dreams of the impossible.
Reading about this time period, the culture of the city’s pleasure district and how it fits into the larger culture, and a bit of the crime and punishment of the period was almost as enthralling as reading the beautiful love story. Huang and Yue-ying’s story was one of impossibilities and dreams because of the gulf between them socially. He is a scholar with the hope of a future working in a high place for the ministry of the Empire and he is from an aristocratic family. She is a humble woman sold as a child by her parents into a brothel and she is later bought and rescued to become the maid of a notorious courtesan. The forbidden aspect of it all is like a fairy tale that in the end looked like it wasn’t going to happen and that they would have to settle for so much less. The suspense aspect of the story was intriguing because it was only pieced together slowly and the answers weren’t all necessarily obvious. All put together, it was a fantastic reading experience.
For those who enjoy historical romances or historical romantic suspense, I cannot encourage you enough to pick this one up.
My thanks to the author for gifting me her book in exchange for an honest review.
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