The historical romances I read are mostly set in Victorian/regency England, so I was looking for historicals set outside of this setting. I asked around and was recommended Jeannie Lin’s work. Historical China did sound like fun – though it turned out to be set in a different time period than I thought it was.
The setting made the book quite different from the other historical romances I have read this past year, and I quite enjoyed that.
This started out a bit dull and I was rather hesitant to like the book – because of the setting and the inherit power structures of any relationship that could come out of that setting.
“He was left wondering whether she’d only accompanied him because he was noble-born and wealthy enough that she was obligated to defer to him.”
However the book really leaned into that and discussed the power dynamics which was really interesting. I love that was explored in a historical romance – I know many historicals does this but many doesn’t.
“You only meant to tease. You have the privilege of turning everything into a jest when I’ve never had the privilege to even refuse such an act.”
There is no insta-love in this book, the relationship is very much earned. It gets to grow and develop. I like that the book explores the complexity of privilege and power in their relationship. I like that the drama of their relationship doesn’t stop with their first love-making. The class differences are still there. Their relationship continues to evolve.
It’s really interesting to see that it is him who has to do all of the emotional work on the relationship, while she is the one thing thinking of the practicalities of their situation. She is the one not believing their relationship to can work, which I found really interesting.
I really liked the personality of Yue-ying, she is very much a realist and not a dreamer or a romantic, she sees the world that she lives in for what it is. Which is a very hard thing for her to do – it would be so much more pleasant for her to let herself believe in the romance of it all.
The book has so many female characters and interesting relationships between them – this is not one of those books where the protagonist don’t have any female friends – Yue-ying makes friends everywhere she goes. All of the woman are trapped by their circumstance, they are always the ones with the least power in their social circle, and that is doubly true for the woman of the pleasure quarter. Again the book is very self-aware on that count:
“The Pingkang li never changes. The same girls are brought here, over and over. We have different faces, but we’re all the same. We’ll grow old and new ones will replace us. A hundred years ago, there must have been another Mingyu in a house just like this one.”
The murder mystery was kind of blah if you ask me. The mystery felt like it was there as a framing narrative to tell the romantic plot line though – just there to let the characters have something to interact around.
Trigger warning: Yue-ying has been a sex slave in a low-class bordel – this is part of her character and affects her.
Read: February 5. – 19. 2018
The author: female, United States
The protagonist: Yue-ying, maidservant, former sex slave, asian, female, 22 years old
The protagonist: Bai Huang, nobleman and student, asian, male