Saturday, September 14, 2013

Guest Review - - The Lotus Palace

The Lotus Palace
By Jeannie Lin
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: August 27, 2013

Set in Changan during the Tang dynasty, The Lotus Palace is part historical romance, part mystery. The North Hamlet of the imperial city, or the Pingkang li, is the pleasure quarter where scholars and bureaucrats visit the courtesans of the pleasure houses. The Lotus Palace is the most celebrated of these palaces. Yue-ying, a young woman with a large red birthmark that covers half her face, is maidservant to Mingyu, the most famous of the Lotus Palace courtesans. Sold into prostitution by her father, Yue-ying is grateful for her position which allows her a degree of freedom and control over her life. She moves through life as unobtrusively as possible, content to be an observer.

Bai Huang is a young scholar, the eldest son of a wealthy, influential official. Because he has failed the imperial examinations several times and because he cultivates the image of a foolish wastrel, no one takes Bai Huang very seriously. He is one of Mingyu’s court, but in reality it is Yue-ying who has captured his attention. Fascinated at first by her stillness and the diligence with which she strives to remain unnoticed, he becomes more fascinated as conversations with her reveal an honesty and lack of pretension that is rare in the Pingkand Li. He pursues her with an unrelenting single-mindedness, but Yue-ying, uncomfortably aware of the differences in their stations, resists him. But when Hulian, another of the North Hamlet’s most celebrated courtesans is murdered, Yue-ying agrees to help Bai Huang solve the murder, and the relationship between them deepens.

Lin defines her hero and heroine not only in terms of who they are in the present moment of the book but also in terms of how their families and pasts have shaped them. She weaves an intriguing cast of secondary characters into the story, and even very minor characters seem credible and real. And she does all these things in prose that is lucid and precise.

Readers who complain that romance never moves beyond Regency and Victorian England should definitely check out Jeannie Lin’s Tang dynasty romance. The setting is exotic enough to please readers who want a time and place out of the ordinary, the characters are compelling, and the balance between romance and mystery is skillfully maintained. There is nothing artificial about the social chasm between Yue-ying and Bai Huang. He is the privileged son of a powerful father, and she is a nonentity with emotional wounds that mark her as much as does her birthmark. The Chinese language serves as a reminder of their differences. Lord Bai is knowledgeable about Chinese literature and trained in poetic expression, as are the courtesans. It is this ability that helps unravel the mystery. Yue-ying is illiterate. If the resolution to the romance seems improbably like a fairy tale, readers need only remember that The Lotus Palace is historical romance not history.

Authors of historical romance get too little credit for world building. In the best books of the subgenre, the author brings the reader a rich sensory experience that makes the sights and sounds and smells and mores of a particular place and time real for the duration of the novel. Lin is exceptionally good in creating such an experience. Reading The Lotus Palace, I was immersed in the world of the book. I left it with detailed memories and an eagerness to return that set me searching for the release date of The Jade Temptress, the beautiful Mingyu’s story. It will be released February 25, 2014.

I knew as soon as I read the description of The Lotus Palace as “an unlikely pairing between a maidservant and a notorious playboy and failed scholar as they investigate the murder of a famous courtesan” (Word Wenches, May 20, 2013) that I wanted to read this book. The promise of a hero who was both poet and playboy fascinated me. In the case of Jeannie Lin, the execution fulfilled all the promise of the idea. I highly recommend this book.



  1. I've been meaning to read her and after your review it makes me want to read her even more!

  2. Her books really are extraordinary, catslady. And since The Lotus Palace introduces a new series, it's a great place to begin.