Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior.
Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li's innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect herwhich means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted.
Comment: September is the month dedicated to the Historical theme as part of the already usual TBR Challenge. I picked this book not only because it has been in the pile for some time but because I liked the previous books I've read by the author so I had confidence this would be appealing as well.
In this book we meet Ai Li, a young woman running from an undesired marriage to a man she suspects is a traitor to the emperor who happens to be her father.
Ai Li decides to escape by staging her abduction and when things go slightly wrong with her plan, there is Ryam, a foreigner warrior, and he helps her hide and run. They bargain Ryam will help her get to the imperial city but she will then be on her own. The problem is that they start falling in love with each other and Ryam might not be quite welcome int he city...
This book is set in China, something still a novelty for what I usually read about and that made the book interesting for that alone. I think one of the elements I liked the most was the mentioning of Chinese traditions and details which can be very different from a western society, something even more obvious in historical settings. I think that this wasn't as explored as I would have liked, even more considering the difference in status of the main characters.
The plot was believable enough, I suppose, but I admit I struggled to pay attention due to two reasons: first, I'm not overly fond of on-the-road tropes and the romances don't always feel realistic when portrayed like that and second, the relationship between Ai Li and Ryam didn't feel as it was meant to be. As always, this is a matter of personal impressions, I'm sure many others read it differently but putting these two details together made the book feel slightly weaker for me.
Romances on the road always seem like an adventure and I guess they are but in this case Ai Li and Ryam just seem too different to make it a stronger relationship. I understand both their goals when traveling, even if Ryam thinks he won't be welcomed but while they share this and that, I never had the idea they wouldn't be happy with anyone but one another. This is what often I imagine when reading a romance, as if that couple is a good complement but in this case I wasn't convinced. Maybe it was the way this was written, maybe it was the notion there were expectations related to Ai Li and while in a western setting the difference in class feels like a simple detail to be overcome, her it felt like too much, since they come from different backgrounds and countries.
Their interactions weren't convincing for me either. The evolution of their relationship didn't feel natural, just a means to make them closer. I can't tell if a longer book would have allowed for a stronger romance but I just didn't feel the pacing was adequate.
The different situations in the book didn't make me overly fond of the story and I did force myself to read and focus instead of looking at other things. I would say I wasn't lost in this world. I thought each new situation Ryam and Ai Li faced before they got to their destination mattered much, it was just a means to make them act or react.
Then we got to the end and everything took a very unbelievable turn for me. I just didn't buy the way things were solved and the HEA felt like a detail to include rather than a natural conclusion.
All in all, a great attempt in terms of setting, I did like the ideas but the writing wasn't always addictive and some details were sub par. I suppose it's a matter of time and technique, since her later work reads better to me. This is the first full length story in the Tang Dynasty series and the next title does seem more interesting but...I'm having doubts now. Maybe I'll get it one day later.