Nothing gets me boo-hooing faster than those opening lines from one of my favorite movies, Joy Luck Club. Loved that movie on so many levels – the culture, the relationships, and the exposure to a different time and place. In The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin I have once again been exposed to a retelling of a standard romance tale, but this time there is a difference. The difference is not only in the time and place, but the culture. This story so wonderfully written, that I became totally immersed in the difference. It was all quite enchanting.
There are so many things in this story that make it one of my favorites of the year. We have a couple who are from totally different social stratas and yes, that happens in European historicals all the time, but this one was written so well that I actually felt the difference between our heroine Yue-ying and our hero Bai Huang. There were times toward the end that I actually had my doubts if I would get a HEA. It was a real nail-biter. Yue-ying is a servant to a Tang dynasty courtesan and even in this world of courtesans there is a class division. It was all very fascinating. Yue-ying and her mistress, Mingyu, are fully-developed characters. They reside in a part of the city called the North Hamlet, and even there they are bound by divisions/rules/traditions. These two women, Yue-ying and Mingyu, will never be anything more than what they are. It is almost impossible for anyone to leave their little place that they inhabit.
Then we have Bai Huang, an aristocratic playboy. He is trying to make his family proud of him by passing an exam that will land him a position in the government. His family has also arranged a marriage to him, and when he passes his exam he will be married. But in the meantime he has fallen in love with Yue-ying. He sees her as maybe someday being his concubine and even that would create a scandal within his family. Of the two main characters in the book, Bai Huang is the most rose-colored glasses romantic person. Yue-ying is more realistic – more understanding of how the world really works. The romance between these two was terrific; watching them grow and overcome the obstacles in their way was amazing.
If I had any quibble with this story it would be the mystery that was incorporated throughout. While I found all of the characters wonderful, the mystery itself and the resolution, while intriguing, wasn’t on the same level as the rest of the writing in this book. Nonetheless, I highly recommend The Lotus Palace. If you’re ready for an exotic ride in a different world, this book is for you.