Tang Dynasty, Book #4
Heat Factor: A bit of sizzle.
Character Chemistry: Literal sparring partners. Like, with swords.
Plot: Le Fing is a bandit. Han is a thief-catcher. He’s chasing her around China after she was maybe involved in stealing some jade. Then they team up because there is something bigger afoot.
Overall: I gobbled this one up. Nom nom nom.
Here’s the deal. I love historical romance. Love it. I love how repressed the characters are! I just do. And the Regency period was fun and all, but I get really excited about historical romances set in other times and places. So I decided that it was high time I read a book by Jeannie Lin, and where better to start than with her backlist of category romances?
The Sword Dancer follows Li Feng, the titular sword dancer (a bandit slash traveling entertainer slash sword adept), and her repeated run-ins with Han, famous thief-catcher. Li Feng is on a mission to discover what happened to her mother 15 years ago but gets a bit sidetracked helping some dudes steal some jade. Enter Han, who is tasked with finding the miscreants. The chase is on!
Han quickly realizes that while Li Feng was technically guilty, she was not the main actor, and that, furthermore, there are way bigger shenanigans going on. Because there is a lot going on with the jade. Most importantly, Li Feng has a single memento from her mother – a jade pendant; in the stolen cache of jade, Li Feng finds the other pieces to the matching set. So we have a bit of a mystery too.
Han and Li Feng do a bit of cat-and-mouse but eventually settle on a truce to figure out what’s going on. In my opinion, the really interesting part of their dynamic stems from how they negotiate their relationships to ideals of duty, family, and justice. Han sees the world in black and white. Someone is outside of the bounds of society or they aren’t. It’s not his job to decide if the law is justly applied – his job is to bring the person who broke the law to the magistrate, who will make the final decision. (His focus on duty and hierarchy is very Confucian, though Confucianism is never mentioned in the text.) For Li Feng, justice is more of a grey area – the law failed to bring justice to her family. Furthermore, though Han is all about duty, he also has a fraught relationship with his family because of his decision to become a thief-catcher, a job which puts him on the outskirts of polite society, even as his work is integral to maintaining the system. His position as a dual insider/outsider makes him a bit more open to arguments from Li Feng about the on-the-ground realities about grey areas – and gives him space to act on his feelings for her.
So we have all this philosophical goodness, plus solid banter, plus a mysterious adventure, plus a unique historical setting full of rules that are just dying to be broken. I think we have a winner!
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