A note to those who haven't read Lin's Butterfly Swords: The Dragon and the Pearl stars characters who first appeared in that book.
This book is set in China during the Tang Dynasty - primarily A.D. 759, with some flashbacks to the main characters' younger days. Ling Suyin, the former Emperor's consort, had hoped to live out the rest of her life quietly, an exile in the beautiful, remote home the Emperor left her after he died. When Li Tao and his men come, Suyin thinks he has come to kill her for something she did in the past. Instead, he takes her prisoner (sort of).
Li Tao had been warned that Gao, another warlord, had sent someone to kill Suyin, although he has no idea why Gao wants her dead. Li Tao tries to figure Suyin out and learn what it is about her that makes her so important that someone like Gao would want to kill her. She fascinates and attracts him, even though he doesn't have the time or luxury to be distracted - he stands precariously between at least two men who may try to kill him, Gao and Emperor Shen.
As they spend more time together, Li Tao and Suyin gradually begin to see underneath each other's masks and to fall in love. Unfortunately, Li Tao's chances of surviving in the face of both Gao and Emperor Shen's armies are slim.
I enjoyed Jeannie Lin's Butterfly Swords enough that when The Dragon and the Pearl came out, I snatched it up. Then it sat in my TBR pile for a while. Working on my read-alikes list for Bonnie Dee's Captive Bride reminded me that I hadn't read it yet, but still wanted to.
I've been working on this post for a few days now, and it has been showing signs of causing me as many problems as my post for Captive Bride. So, in the interest of finishing this post this weekend instead of several weeks from now, I'm doing things a little differently.
What I liked:
- Li Tao and Suyin's complexity. Both characters have been harboring at least one big secret since before the previous Emperor's death, and they've become used to hiding their emotions. As a result, neither one of them knows what to expect from each other. Suyin primarily knows Li Tao through his deadly reputation – he was the weapon through which the former Emperor punished anyone potentially involved in the Empress's murder. Li Tao knows Suyin primarily through the reputation she gained as the former Emperor's Precious Consort – she was, and is, thought to be a seductive courtesan skilled enough to bring any man to his knees. I enjoyed getting to find out more about the people behind the reputations.
- The intensity of Li Tao and Suyin's relationship. Neither Li Tao nor Suyin really expects that Li Tao will survive much longer, not if he continues on his current path. Even so, Li Tao really does think that he has made the best possible choice. Suyin is desperate to convince him otherwise, but, even if she can, there is still no guarantee that he won't be killed. The impending tragedy makes for some really intense and emotional romance.
- The setting. I enjoyed the Tang Dynasty China setting in Butterfly Swords, and I enjoyed it in this book as well. I know only a very little about this time and place, so there were some things I didn't feel I was able to follow very well, but I think I still got the gist of what was going on.
- If I hadn't known this was a Harlequin Historical, I'd have been tempted to flip to the end of the book, just to make sure there was at least a half-way happy ending. The bulk of The Dragon and the Pearl often felt less like a romance novel and more like a tragic love story. While the feeling of impending tragedy gave Suyin and Li Tao's romance a lot of intensity, it didn't fit with the happy romance novel ending, which seemed to come out of nowhere. I was a little stunned at how suddenly one particular character was defanged and turned into a Tang Dynasty China equivalent of Nora Roberts' Daniel MacGregor (basically, a grandfatherly matchmaker).
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Captive Bride (e-book) by Bonnie Dee - If you'd like another historical romance starring a Chinese heroine and dealing a little with prostitution, you might want to try this. It takes place primarily in San Francisco in 1870. I have written about this book.
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (live action movie) - The romance and tragic feel of The Dragon and the Pearl reminded me of this movie.
- Poison Study (book) by Maria V. Snyder - Something about the relationship between Li Tao and Suyin reminded me of Poison Study's Yelena and Valek. Those who liked the deadly politics of The Dragon and the Pearl might want to try this. It's a fantasy novel, but it does have a little bit of romance.
- The Iron Duke (book) by Meljean Brook - Another book Li Tao and Suyin's relationship reminded me of. This one is steampunk with strong romantic elements. I have written about it.
- Slumdog Millionaire (live action movie) - Those who'd like another non-American, non-European setting and who enjoyed the flashbacks that revealed bits and pieces of Suyin and Li Tao's early lives and secrets might want to give this movie a try. It's based on the book Q & A by Vikas Swarup. I've seen the movie but haven't read the book, so I don't know how similar the two are.