Jeannie Lin's works always reminded me of the Chinese wuxia films, only with happier endings. They share the same themes of danger, forbidden love, class differences, soulful men, and strong heroines. Except, you know, with Jeannie Lin's books, you're 99.9% sure that your new favorite hero and heroine aren't going to die at the end of the story - and that is a big sell, trust me.
Recently, I read SILK, SWORDS, AND SURRENDER, which is a collection of her short stories. It was pretty good, but the quality of the stories was uneven, and I felt like the shortness of length contributed to that. I'd also read the second book in her Pingkang Li series, JADE TEMPTRESS, and while I wasn't really a fan, I did really enjoy the lavish settings and elegant writing. When THE LOTUS PALACE went on sale for $1.99, it seemed like a no-brainer: surely this time, I thought, the book would hit the mark.
Yue-ying was sold into servitude by her own greedy parents, and rescued from a brothel to work as a servant for the elegant concubine, Mingyu. Mingyu is one of four renowned beauties in the pleasure quarter, and men fawn over her just to catch her eye for a few moments. Nobody notices Yue-ying, who, with her port-wine birthmark that covers half of her face, tends to put people - especially those expecting beauty - at unease. With Mingyu she can fade into the background and that's exactly how Yue-ying and Mingyu prefer it.
Until Lord Bai comes along.
Bai Huang is the son of a nobleman and a struggling scholar. He gambles and flirts outrageously, but it's Yue-ying he kisses in a darkened corridor, and Yue-ying he pursues, even while courting Mingyu for convention's sake. Yue-ying finds herself reluctantly attracted to him as well, but intimacy is difficult for her because of her terrible childhood/adolescence, and she has resolved that, after wresting back the freedom her parents were so quick to put a price on, she will belong to no one.
On top of this Forbidden Romance Sundae® is a Glistening Murder-Cherry™. One of those aforementioned beauties, Huilan, is found murdered. And later, by the river, a man is found murdered - and an expensive hair ornament is found at the scene of the crime. Yue-ying suspects that Mingyu might be involved; but if she's innocent, it might be worse - she might be the next victim.
I really enjoyed how this book navigated the difficulties of dating outside of one's social class. This is often something that is glossed over in historical romances, even though it would have been incredibly scandalous at the time. Jeannie Lin tries to portray the conflicts and the difficulties that would arise from such a scenario - to the point where I was unsure how a 100% satisfactory ending would fit; to be blunt, it didn't. That ending was tacked on as purely fan service. Deus-ex-oh-good-we-can-wed-now.
I also felt that this book was much too long, and the angst between Bai Huang and Yue-ying quickly became tedious. About 100 pages could have been shaved off this book and I think it would have been all the better for it. That said, it was wonderful to read something new, historical romance-wise. I love regency romances as much as anyone, but they're definitely oversaturating the historical romance market - them, and brawny Anglo-Saxon warriors in medieval smutfests (P.S. can we have a book festival called Smutfest? Or maybe Smutcon?). I really want to read Ms. Lin's Tang Dynasty series, as the summaries of those books seem more in line with what I would enjoy (drama, drama, and also more drama). I think, however, that I am done with this one.
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars