Thursday, September 2, 2010

REVIEW: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin


ISBN 9780373296149
Genre: Historical Romance
(c) October 2010, Harlequin
Jeannie Lin's website

Rating: 5 stars

Available at Book Depository (print) for pre-order.

Jeannie Lin's writing is vivid and filled with the color and flavor of the times, making Ancient China (Tang Dynasty) come to life from the pages of the book. The story began with swords clashing together, and I swear I could hear them clanging in my ears. The author also dropped a few Chinese words here and there to lend authenticity, along with clear descriptions of the places and events that it felt as though I was there. Not only that, but Ms. Lin also presented the customs and culture that were distinctive to the time and place with a delicate hand and through the characters' interactions, just enough so that we'd understand why the heroine behaved as she did. Yet, the history, the culture and the description of the setting didn't overpower the story; instead, they functioned as should be --- background to Ailey's and Ryam's burgeoning story of love, courage and honor.

Ai Li (or Ailey) was escaping from an arranged marriage and surrounded by villains when Ryam came upon her. He rescued her and was instantly smitten with her, especially when she proved to be as skilled as he was in combat fighting with the use of her butterfly swords. He decided to escort her back home, knowing the danger to him should he do so, yet unable to resist the temptation that was Ailey.

As for Ailey, she needed to get home to warn her family of a treacherous plot against them, and so she was grateful for Ryam's company and his sword, but she couldn't have known the lessons of love she'd learned at the hands of this handsome barbarian.

This is the first historical romance I've read that is set in Ancient China and I love it! I love the fresh setting and the cultural conflict, the way honor and duty was so ingrained in Ailey that an outsider, a foreigner like Ryam, couldn't understand and may not be able to accept. Yet, love and passion were the same, no matter the century or the country. They have the ability to transcend barriers such as race and tradition and culture.

How to describe Ailey? I commend the author for creating such a complex, well-rounded and rich character such as Ailey. She's a complex blend of her needs and wants and principles and family upbringing. She holds the concepts of honor and duty close to her heart, much like most people of honor did in those times, and was prepared to sacrifice her love and what she wants for them, but also for her family and her country. She was truly patriotic. Moreover, shame as brought about by broken promises (like not going through an arranged marriage), was very big at that time. It could cause dishonor to her family, so Ailey's escape from her arranged marriage was for a very good reason. She also looked up to her parents, as all dutiful daughters should, and it was only when there was a crack in the family, specifically in her parents' situation, that she started to crumble and to question whether their uplifted position (her father becoming the reigning Emperor) has changed them all. Yet, she held true to the fundamental principles she'd believed in and lived by all her life, even when her entire family seemed to be against her.

Ailey is a strong heroine, strong in terms of her will and confidence, in the clearness of her thoughts and the path she should take, and also in the physical strength by which she wields her butterfly swords. Finally! A female warrior who could fight like a man, wouldn't be bested by a man, yet despite all, she retained her femininity and allure.

As the youngest and a daughter, she was virtually "insignificant". The Chinese want sons more than daughters, and most often than not, daughters were seen as pawns to further the family position (not unlike historical England) or, in the case of Ailey, to secure alliances. That was partly why Ailey was so entranced with Ryam, because he listened to her as though her opinions had merit, and he saw her for what she was, a beautiful, desirable woman with her own mind and with strengths and weaknesses of her own. And of course, there was attraction between them, a chemistry that sizzled from the first time Ryam saw her when she was in the disguise of a boy. Not that Ryam ever mistook her for such.

Ailey was so stunningly portrayed that Ryam was a bit overshadowed, though he did go through his own character arc. He was a soldier in the foreign legion that was stationed in the Gansu corridor at Yumen Gate. He was a man shaped by his past, most specifically, his father's actions. Wracked with guilt over an incident that led to his men being killed, he wandered the empire for a time to get his bearings. And in his wandering, he came upon Ailey. In my opinion, Ailey was the stronger of the two, not physical superiority of course, but in terms of clarity of purpose.

Yet, I like the way the author brought events around full circle for Ryam, where he recognized the past for what it was and how he resolved to break free of it. Of course, Ailey's situation was what prompted this revelation, but hey, we all know that behind every great man is an equally great woman who inspired him. But his resolution to fight and preserve Ailey's honor was all his own. Throughout the book, we see a man who understands Ailey, who knows the things Ailey holds dear, and here at the last, we see a man willing to compromise to learn the things that are important to his beloved.

Can you tell how much I love this book? I was literally swept away by the rolling vistas described, the majestic mountains, the vast sweep of lush greenery, the bustling cities and the harshness of the land, especially at the empire's border, but most especially, I was captivated by the action scenes. Jeannie Lin sure know how to write a good fight scene. The details were so vivid they came alive, and she captured the tense moments perfectly, such that in that last fight scene, I wasn't sure who would win, Ryam or his rival, as both were equally matched.

I was so sad when I reached the last page. In fact, I couldn't believe there wasn't more as I felt some of the minor story threads remained open, making me wonder if there was a sequel in the making. I am certainly looking forward to more offerings from this amazingly talented author.

(Update: Oh my God, there is!!! I've just been to Jeannie Lin's website and the next book is entitled The Dragon and the Pearl, featuring two secondary characters from Butterfly Swords. Can't wait! And if I'm not mistaken, Ailey's grandparents are the characters from Ms. Lin's short story, The Taming of Mei Lin, as the story sounds eerily familiar.)

Reviewed by Carol

Note: This review copy was provided by author/publisher.

Book Summary:

JOURNEY TO THE VERY EDGE OF HONOR, LOYALTY...AND LOVE

During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. 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 her—which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted....

(Winner of the 2009 Golden Heart for Historical Romance.)

6 comments:

Danielle said...

Great review Carole. It sounds like a good book.

IheartBrookings said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Adding to my to-read list. :)

gamistress66 said...

Thanks for the review, sounds like an interesting change of pace.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

this one sounds so good!! Thanks for the great review!!

dor said...

I really loved this post. I really want to read this now. Thanks.

dorcontest at gmail dot com

Lindsey said...

Ahh, I've been waiting for this book ever since it was announced. This, and her other book (The Taming of Mei Lin) come out on the same day. October is going to be a good month fro books (but a bad month for my wallet, heh).

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