Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TBR Challenge: Jeannie Lin - The Lotus Palace

It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang Li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China...
Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties. Street-smart and practical, she's content to live in the shadow of her infamous mistress—until she meets the aristocratic playboy Bai Huang.
Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely imagine, yet alone share, but as they are thrown together in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang's position means that all she could ever be to him is his concubine—will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart?


Comment: This month the TBR Challenge theme is historical romance. I do confess to have countless of titles that fit the bill. But as I schedule books for each month, I looked at the titles for November and several could be chosen but I decided to go with this one because it's different from what we usually see in historicals. Personally I've never read about set in China, a romance that is. I've seen movies but books not really, so I thought this would be a good choice.

The Lotus Palace is the story of Yue-ying, a maidservant to one of the most beautiful courtesans in China. She knows her place and what her life will always be like but she is content to help Mingyu, the person she owes it all to.
But as a guest of the Lotus Palace, Bai Huang keeps tracking her down. And he isn't just looking for sex as she first thought, despite his possible choice of several other women much prettier and accomplished than her. What Bai Huang wants is her help to find a mysterious person who is guilty of several crimes, including murder. Someone who frequents the Lotus Palace...
While looking for clues and maneuvering social etiquette, Yue-ying will have to weight in her own feelings and her expectations about her life so she can find happiness....or not.

I was really surprised by this book. Nothing like I ever read in the genre, but I saw its praising in some blogs and review sites and decided to try it. I got this book back in May, but now was the time I picked to start it.
I've seen movies set in Asia and some have moved me amazingly. «Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon» was an amazing movie and it portrayed romance and tragedy and all the impossibilities we might have found in an Asian society heavily based on honor and duty and rules. I loved the movie even though I cried a lot, but I found this Lotus Palace to be a book very similar in subject and ideas, but with obviously if different story and situations.

The book shows us characters very different in society's eyes. Yue-ying is poor, a maidservant and a former prostitute. She was rescued by her current mistress and she is faithful to her and is content to live this way for she hated being a prostitute. She didn't have much choice though, and not only because a birthmark on her cheek stopped her from being a more respected courtesan. Yue-ying just never got a chance since she was a young child. She is every cynical abut the world, about how things happen but of course there's nothing she can do and often during the book we see her say exactly that when faced with any situation. There are many secrets about her existence but what made me notice her the most was how little she allowed herself to dream. I think this is one of the biggest differences I saw in this book when compared to an historical set on other places, like England. Despite the difficulties there's always the idea dreams can happen somehow, but Yue-ying lived in a place where that wasn't even possible because society is so peculiar.
Bai Huang was a good counterpart because he seemed more flexible but he had a responsibility too and both his sides, the funnier and the serious ones fit together properly.

The cultural differences to what I was used to slowed me down a bit. The characters are very faithful to that idea that passion and exuberance are to be hidden or non existent, something we might see in other novels, and here I had a bit of a hard time picturing the main characters happiness even when they talked about good things. It just seemed doomed all the time. I think there's a clear negative vibe throughout the book. Some things are so unfair and illogical to be true, but I know the author must have been very faithful to how society was during that time.

The romance showed this as well. It seemed things couldn't only go one way and no matter what the characters did, doom was the only path. They could be happy but there would be a price to pay and that could be both their honor, their dedication to each other and although acceptable by law I can understand how and why that wouldn't do. A HEA happens and I'm glad but it was gotten by miracle almost. Not totally innovative but after such heavy trouble before it almost seemed the HEA was a consolation prize and not a necessity. Just my feel about it.

The mystery solution was done well, the intensity of what was happening,, the reasons why some characters took action had a special an powerful meaning and were understood quite well. I think the author did a great job in setting the action, the atmosphere to better understand all the details a society like that and why the murderer go away with it for a while. The guilty had their deserving end too.
The study one can o on these characters is quite interesting. The author made them all alive somehow and gave them souls and minds to fit the plot and a complexity we can't help but see. Each one acts a certain way and almost walks all the emotions of a human being. I can't explain it well, but I felt their actions and the weight of their lives in their actions and words. I think this isn't easy to do and the author managed it well.

All in all, a brilliant character development, an intriguing plot but for me the most interesting thing, almost the bittersweet one, was the characterization of everyone in this book. I get it but it still made me down a bit sometimes, over the helplessness of things and despite the great work, the negativity of some things just made me feel sad and thus a not perfect grade.
Still, this is a recommended read for sure.
Grade: 7/10

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