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Jade Lee

REVIEW:  White Tigress by Jade Lee

REVIEW: White Tigress by Jade Lee

Dear Ms. Lee—

When I saw you’d released your Tigress series digitally and the first one, originally published in 2005, White Tigress was free at Amazon, I downloaded it immediately. I’m always thrilled to find a historical romance not set in Regency England and I’m fascinated by China and its complex history. I cannot say I was fascinated by this book. I was actually rather repulsed by it and found it to be so bizarre I wondered perhaps, in order to make sense of the story, I needed some sort of cultural Rosetta stone. I questioned if I was too Western or too humdrum for your book for not only did much of the novel baffle me, much of it made me cringe.

White Tigress by Jade LeeThe book is set in Shanghai in 1897 and, from the first chapter, the heroine, Lydia Smith behaves inexplicably. She’s arrived in Shanghai two weeks earlier than her fiancé Max (Maxwell Slade) is expecting her—she got better rate on an earlier boat. As she steps down the gangplank, she’s oddly sure everything will be JUST FINE even though she doesn’t speak the language, she’s a beautiful blonde woman traveling alone in Asia in the 19th century, her fiancé has no idea she’s in town, and everyone around her is a total stranger. The only person she knows is the captain of her ship, whose looks she hasn’t liked from the moment she met him. He promises he will take her to the address she has for Max, bundles her onto his rickshaw, and promptly delivers her to a brothel, the Garden of Perfumed Flowers, where she is drugged with opium tea and abandoned to her fate.

Normally this fate would be a life where she was forced to become addicted to opium, used over and over again by men, and then, when her beauty and youth had faded, she’d be thrown out on the streets of Shanghai where she’d ultimately die of opium addiction and/or the damage from of life of prostitution. But, Lydia gets, comparatively, lucky. A very bizarre woman, Shi Po, who is considered “senior in these teachings, a tigress far ahead… on the path to immortality,” (she’s an expert practitioner in the certain Taoist tantric sex practices that can make one, while still living, an Immortal) has found out about the now captive Lydia and believes her primary student, Ru Shan, needs to buy Lydia immediately—while she’s still unsullied—in order to restore him to his place on the path to Immortality. This didn’t make a lick of sense to me. Maybe it will to others. In case it’s just me who is clueless, here’s Shi Po’s reasoning:

“Look again at the girl,” she ordered. “See how much water she has in her? See her breasts, how full and round they are? They will give much sustenance to a man with too much yang.”

Ru Shan grimaced, knowing she referred to him. Indeed that was the source of his problem, according to her: too much male yang. Too little female yin.

….”You will have to buy her.”

“What?”

….”No!” The very idea revolted him.

“Then you have abandoned the Tao and all the gains you have made these last nine years. You will never become an Immortal. Even your status as a jade dragon will disappear.”

He felt his jaw tighten at the thought, the heat in his belly rising with his temper. Nearly a decade of study, of diligent effort and constant attention, all would disappear? Because he would not sacrifice his family to his goals? Not possible!

“Then you must buy the white girl. You must establish her in an apartment close enough to see her every day. You must partake of her essence every moment that you can.” Shi Po stepped even closer, pressing her point. “And as her water flows into you, your family’s fortunes will recover and your pathway back to the Tao will be revealed.” She lowered her voice into a seductive murmur. “Your mind will find peace, your body rest. You will return to the middle path with new energy, and as her yin mixes with your yang, the spiritual embryo will be born. You will become an Immortal. You can, Ru Shan, if only you will do what is necessary.”

So, Ru Shan, whose life has sucked for the past two years, goes deeply into debt and buys Lydia, a ghost woman, whom he sees a little more than a pet. He installs her in an apartment and plans to use her yin to balance his yang and thus make it back to the Chamber of a Thousand Swinging Lanterns, the antechamber to the Realm of the Immortals, where he’s been three times before his life fell apart. Lydia, still heavily drugged from her doctored tea, has no idea what has happened to her and, when she finally comes out of her opiate induced coma, she finds herself lying on a bed in a small room, completely shaved, and being cared for by a nice young Chinese houseboy named Fu De. When she first awakes, she believes, for no reason I could fathom, somehow her situation is due to Max, her fiancé, whom she demands to see.

Instead, Ru Shan walks through the bedroom door and tells her she is now his slave. (He speaks English.) He explains to her,

“I have extended myself greatly to purchase you. You were most expensive.” His tone indicated disapproval, almost anger. “But it is done now, and you will perform such tasks as I require when I require.”

Lydia has a complete conniption at this idea and spends the next several days rebelling by struggling, refusing to eat, and fouling the sheets of her bed. Neither Fu De nor Ru Shan pay any attention to her actions. After a week of such behavior, Ru Shan comes to her and tells her to get a grip or he will send her back to the brothel where her future—opium, sex with violent strangers, the streets, painful death—will be far worse than what he will ask of her as his slave. He promises she will remain a virgin, that all he wants is her yin—her feminine water. She is confused by what he is asking for. He tells her,

“What I require is your yin. Your water.”

She shook her head, frustration making her surly. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means that I require your feminine fluids. But not your virginity.”

She blinked, sure she could not have heard him correctly. “You do not intend to ravish me?”

He shuddered—he actually shuddered—at the thought. “I am working to become an Immortal. Ravishment, as you put it, would require a release of my yang power—my manly fluids and energy—into you. That would decrease my ability to attain Immortality.”

She frowned, trying to understand. “But you need my female energy, my—”

“Yin.”

“My yin to…”

“To mix with my yang energy and create the power that will take me to the Immortal Realm.”

“You’ll die?” she gasped.

She thought perhaps his expression lightened at her dramatic statement, but his tone remained level. “No. I will become an Immortal. Any man or woman can visit Heaven, but only if they have sufficient spirit to take them there.”

“Spirit? You mean a mixture of your yang and my yin.”

I considered putting the book down and giving up at this point. I was less than a quarter of a way through the novel and the thought of wading through 250 more pages was tiresome. But, wade I did. It wasn’t fun. Lydia stays in the apartment, starts taking off her clothes, and letting Ru Chan draw her yin out of her breasts through regular and, soon enough, arousing caresses. Ru Chan teaches her to stimulate his jade dragon in a way that stirs his yang but doesn’t release his seed. He plays with her cinnabar cave. The two, when not involved in six million acts of non penetrative tantric sex—at least I think it’s tantric sex—argue about whether or not Lydia is an actual person as opposed to a dog or some other sort of lesser being—Ru Chan has been raised to believe Lydia, like all white people, especially ghost women, are

“not completely stupid. But you are still a woman, and nine virtuous Chinese women are not the equal of even one lame boy. You, ghost woman, are worth even less than a Chinese woman.”

They also explore why Ru Chan’s path to Immortality is blocked—it has, disturbingly, to do with his mother’s death. (His mother’s story is told is a series of letters, interspersed in the novel. I found this device jarring and it never explained, to my satisfaction, why Ru Chan’s life was in such shambles.)

Halfway through the novel, Lydia escapes and the relationship between her and Ru Chan changes. I’m not going to explain the rest of the plot—I’ve already given up too much of my life to this book–except to say it was  unlikely on so many levels—the only exceptions being that 1) Maxwell, utterly unsurprisingly, turns out to be an ass and 2) Li Po is a devious, bitchy woman.

By the time Lydia and Ru Chan attained their Happily Ever After, I was bewildered about so many things, I again wondered about that Rosetta Stone concept. I never understood why Ru Chan was blocked, why expending his yang was acceptable at some times and not at others, why the two fell in love, why Ru Chan kept a fairly huge secret unrelated to his yang problems from Lydia, or what all the sorta sex they kept having had to do with becoming Immortal. I’m not clear on the difference between a jade dragon and a green dragon. I think the former is a penis and the latter a youthful Taoist male but I wouldn’t swear to it. I have no idea how much of what is in the book is factually accurate—so much of it seemed right out of the empire of crazy made-up crap—but whether the book is historically authentic or not wouldn’t change the fact it’s an awkward, confusing, non-erotic read. I give it a D.

I will end this review with a spoiler. The rather long scene that follows is taken from the end of the book when Lydia and Ru Chan have finally mixed their yin and their yang perfectly. If this scene works for you, ignore my review. I read it and thought, “Really? A perfect paroxysm can toss one into the firmament…. Hmmmm, I must not be doing it right.”

[spoiler]

She cried out something as well. Perhaps it was his name, perhaps it was simply a joyous eruption of love and power. But as his jade dragon continued to convulse—fiery explosions of yang with every thrust—her yin tide began to surge. Higher and higher it rose, her body moving with his, her yin fusing with his yang.

On and on they went.

Together.

As one.

Until a beauty of light shimmered, surrounding them. It was both an explosion of magnificence and a quiet unfolding of wonder.

The veil parted, and hand in hand with Ru Shan, Lydia stepped into immortality.

********************************************************************

….Ru Shan felt the veil lift, stunned amazement filling him even as he walked the familiar path. This walk had been for Lydia, not for him. He had given everything he had—all his yang, all his experience, every moment of study and skill he had within him—to her. So that she would walk here, where she belonged, in Heaven with the Immortals. He had not expected to enter the antechamber instead of her.

But here he was, standing in the Chamber of a Thousand Swinging Lanterns, the antechamber to the Realm of the Immortals. As had happened three times before, he stood lost in awe as pinpoints of light danced before him, filling him with an indescribable joy. This was the farthest he had ever come, the journey a struggle and his greatest achievement. Never had he thought he could come here so easily and with a partner, as well.

He looked to his side, surprised to see Lydia beside him. And not surprised. After all, she had been the reason for this journey. Without her, he would never have found love. Never would have known that it was the true catalyst for immortality.

He turned to her, the thought creating the action since they had neither muscle nor bone here. This was the realm of the spirit, and so the merest thought would take him where he wished to be: beside her, looking at her, in love with her.

He expected to see ecstasy on her face. Instead, he saw peace and was enveloped in her joy, surrounded in her love—just as she was surrounded in his. Never could he have imagined a more perfect moment.

Until it became more.

The second veil lifted and, together, they stepped into Heaven—the realm of the Immortals. A golden palace surrounded him, and yet not of wood or stone. It was merely a shimmering of incredible light that filled his heart with awe. All about him walked the Immortals—male and female angels of such beauty that he could do little more than laugh.

Was he laughing?

He meant no disrespect, and yet he could not stop. And beside him, Lydia bubbled over with her own happiness, giggles of sound, melodic vibrations of gladness that mixed with his own to become a beautiful sound that fit this glorious place.

The music softened and another sound joined with theirs—an angel’s music coming from a beautiful goddess. She simply appeared before them, her brow radiant, her robes not cloth but tendrils of light that emanated from within her. She smiled at them, and he heard her music shift, becoming deeper, clearer, and even more resplendent; but no more or less beautiful than Ru Shan’s and Lydia’s.

“Welcome, Ru Shan. Welcome, Lydia. I am so pleased you have come to join us,” she said. Then around her he felt an echoing chord, a single vibration that set the entire palace to shimmering with welcome.

Ru Shan wanted to answer, wanted to speak poetry or song, wanted to find some excellent way to convey his gratitude. But he had no words, and yet as the thought entered his mind, his entire soul fit the emotion to sound. Together, he and Lydia made their own music, a vibration of thanks that fitted perfectly with this place.

[/spoiler]

 

Sincerely and probably limited by my Western cultural background,

Dabney

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REVIEW: Wedded in Scandal by Jade Lee

REVIEW: Wedded in Scandal by Jade Lee

Dear Ms. Lee,

I fell head over heels in love with your hero in the very first few paragraphs of your novel, Wedded in Scandal.

“Yer wants to go in there? But, er, why?”

Robert Percy, Viscount Redhill, ignored the mine manager and began stripping off his coat and gloves. They were in the shack outside a coal mine that his father had purchased in a fit of drunken entrepreneurship. Sadly, the earl didn’t fall down in his cups like a normal person. No, instead he bought businesses, which Robert then had to save. And given that no one in his family knew anything about coal mining, this was going to be a challenge indeed.

But the first step in a new venture—or after one of his father’s drinking binges—was to inspect the new property. So he was determined to go down into the hellhole of a mine despite Mr. Hutchins’s objections. He’d already pulled off his coat and folded it neatly to the side, but after one glance outside at the filthy employees all lined up near the mine entrance, he stripped off his waistcoat as well. He would have taken off his fine lawn shirt, but he couldn’t greet his new employees half naked.

However, by the end of the second chapter, I no longer thought he was a paragon of male perfection. By the end of Chapter Two, I thought he was a pompous prick. I was wrong both times—Robert isn’t a jerk, although he does tend to arrogantly overwhelm most everyone he encounters, nor is he a dreamboat peer. By the end of the book, I liked him and understood why the heroine, Helaine Talbott, not only fell but stayed head over heels in love with him.

Wedded in Scandal Jade LeeHelaine has had a difficult past decade. When she was in her teens, her father, a drinker and a cheat, stole a case of fabulous brandy the Earl of Bedford had sent as a gift to his son, a soldier finding for England in Spain—Helaine’s father, the Earl of Chelmorton, had a drinking buddy in charge of certain military shipments to Spain and he somehow used information from his friend to nab the booze. Helaine’s dad, immoral and stupid, then threw a party and carelessly bragged about the brandy’s provenance. The Earl of Bedford, an unforgiving type, retaliated by socially destroying Helaine’s father, now known as the Thief of the Ton. Her father subsequently vanished and, within a few short months, Helaine and her mother were tossed out of the ton, and found themselves in the poorhouse. Helaine’s now business partner, a seamstress named Wendy (there’s a mystery there that’s never explained) bailed Helaine and her mother out of the poorhouse and suggested that Helaine and she—Wendy—open a dressmaking business together. Thrilled at a chance for survival, Helaine said yes. For years, Helaine has supported herself and her mother but, each day, Helaine worries the shop could fail and she and her mother will be again without resources. As a dressmaker and shop owner, Helaine has completely left her aristocratic past behind; in fact she keeps her past rank a secret, sure the ton wouldn’t buy clothes made, no matter how well, by the daughter of the Thief of the Ton. She uses the name Helen Mortimer and presents herself to clients as a lowly tradeswoman.

Helaine has one aristocratic client—the rest of her patrons are from the business class—the soon to be married Lady Gwendolyn, Robert’s sister. Gwen wants Helen to make Gwen’s trousseau—Helaine is really good at what she does. This would be marvelous for Helaine if she, Helaine, could convince merchants to let her buy fabrics and the like on credit which they, given that she’s a woman of no means, adamantly will not. Gwen, like all aristos, is used to buying on credit and so Helaine is stuck—she needs to make gorgeous creations for Gwen, but she can’t afford the fabrics she needs to do so. Desperate for funds, Helaine calls on Robert and asks if he will pay Gwen’s bills. Helaine tries to convince Robert the bills are for dresses already made, but he calls her bluff. Even worse, he accuses her of extortion, and readies to call the constable. Helaine implores him not to and tells him the truth, and he, still unwilling to pay her, says the best he can do is give Gwen control over her clothing funds and she, Gwen, can decide whether to pay Helaine. As the two bargain, Robert becomes enamored of the buxom, attractive Mrs. Mortimer. So much so, that, later the same day, he goes to Helaine’s shop with the intent of asking her to become his mistress.

Once there, he gets her alone and kisses her—she’s twenty-eight but knows nothing of passion. It’s a damn good kiss in part because

Nearly a decade ago, his uncle had taught him how to seduce a woman with just his tongue. It had been the most useful lesson any relative had ever given him.

Despite the stirring kiss, Helaine turns down his offer.  A few days later, he kisses her again, and, this time, he realizes despite her reputation as the long-term mistress of a recently dead Lord, she’s a virgin. He believes this is the reason she’s turned him down and he, sure the passion between the two of them would be remarkable, asks her again, differently.

“I have handled this incorrectly, Helaine, but the desire remains. I should like you to be my mistress.”

“And I desire to be an honest dressmaker who isn’t constantly accosted.”  She did not invest her words with anger. She simply stated it and prayed he would hear her.

He did understand her implication. His wince was proof of that. But that didn’t stop him from pleading his case. “I am a slow lover, Helaine, patient and generally considerate. And though I have never taken a virgin, I would make an exception for you. I would introduce you correctly to this business. And would pay handsomely for the privilege.”

She again says no. Her experience with her father has made her wary of all men. Furthermore, despite her age and circumstances, she dreams of marrying for love and would like to be a maiden on her wedding night. Robert hears her no, but also sees how she responds to him and, in every way, he wants her. So, he pursues her, sending her gifts, easing her way with the merchants—he gets a credit line for her at the best fabric merchant in London—and, in general, ruthlessly plans her seduction. He knows to take her is to go against both her wishes and those of his sister—Gwen is appalled her brother is hitting on her dresser and has ordered him to stop.

And yet he could not stop himself. Helaine drew him. She challenged his mind, she roused his protective instincts, and she made him harder than granite. No woman of his acquaintance had ever done all three things.

When he realizes who she really is, the daughter of a disgraced Earl, he is even less deterred.  He thinks no one of her class will ever marry her, so despite (because she’s a peer) he would now be “debauching an innocent,” he still schemes to seduce her. Being his mistress, he thinks, would be a pretty good life option for her.

Helaine, despite her dreams of marital bliss, knows Robert would never marry her. But Robert is very persuasive—he woos Helaine perfectly—and Helaine begins to reconsider her refusal to share his bed. Prior to meeting Robert and Gwen, Helaine has lived in social vacuum. She cares for her coworker, Wendy, and for a young woman named Penny who, with her little brother, comes to live with Helaine and her mother. (It appears Wendy is the heroine of Ms. Lee’s next book which is the only reason she’s in this one.) But other than her mother, Helaine never speaks with anyone from the world she grew up in. She also can’t risk anyone finding out the truth about her past, so she has, for years, kept to herself. Part of what makes Robert so seductive to Helaine—besides all those things he can do with his tongue—is the conversation he shares with her. The two banter, argue, and talk in a way Helaine hasn’t done for over a decade. She, within a few weeks of meeting him, falls in love with him. The chaste life she’s insisted upon for herself begins to seem drab, even self-limiting, compared to the life Robert relentlessly offers her.

I’m not sure, really, what I think about Robert. He is a great guy—when he’s not wooing Helaine, he’s either protecting his family and staff with skill and care, making sure those employed in the businesses his father’s recklessly purchased are well-paid and fairly treated, or managing the medical care and financial needs of a group of ex-prostitutes and their children he houses in a brothel his father once bought that he, Robert, has turned into a sort of half-way house. He loves his sister and he treats her fiancé and his family with compassion and humor. He cares deeply for Helaine and genuinely believes the life he is offering her is a good one. He feels it would be a crime for a woman with her passionate nature to live without a lover. He’s unusually likable and yet, his behavior is only valid because, at the end of the novel, he does the right thing—the title of the book is, after all, Wedded in Scandal. For much of the novel, his relentless pursuit of Helaine smacked of self-indulgence, even selfishness.

One thing that, for me, mitigates Robert’s behavior that Helaine has many of the same concerns about Robert’s behavior as I do. Helaine has worked hard in her dressmaking business and she’s learned to take care of herself. She also loves her work. She’s a strong, talented woman who normally has no trouble doing what’s best for herself and her shop. Many men have tried to seduce her and none of them, other than Robert, has ever interested her. She’s lived a disciplined life for the past ten years and she sees in Robert a threat to all she’s accomplished. But, just as Robert can’t help pursuing her, she can’t help responding. He touches her and she’s lost in the best way possible. When she does finally succumb to him, she’s knows she’s choosing passion over good sense, but she’s decided a love affair with Robert is worth its cost.

I liked a good deal about this book. You write wonderful exchanges between the main characters. Your words are often witty—I loved the discussions between Robert and his butler Dribbs. The sex scenes in the book are good ones and showcase emotional and physical intimacy. Both leads are well-developed, interesting characters both together and apart. It’s rare in a romance that what happens when a couple is apart is as compelling as what they do together. It was an enjoyable book to read.

The book, however, has some glaring problems. Characters are introduced, seem important to the story, and then vanish. (What the hell happened to Irene?) Helaine’s secret doesn’t seem feasible. On the one hand, she creates an assumed identity as a tradeswoman and yet routinely puts herself in situations where she could easily be recognized as Lady Helaine. There are too many unexplained mysteries—who murdered Penny’s parents? Where did Wendy find the resources and the inclination to save Helaine and her mother from the poorhouse? Where is Helaine’s father?  Perhaps these plot lines will be explored in other books, but I found them distracting and open-ended.

I disliked the last few chapters of the book. Robert and Helaine create situations unbelievable and oddly goofy. Helaine behaves in the dreaded TSTL manner—this always ticks me off. The last chapter itself is infuriating and left the book ending on a poorly conceived note.

Spoiler:

[spoiler]Robert keeps trying to ask Helaine to marry him, but she’s just too busy getting Gwen ready for her wedding so Robert ends up proposing during his sister’s wedding. Gwen of course says she thrilled—she’s a big fan of Helaine—but I saw it as drama-rama.[/spoiler]

The next book in the series, Wedded in Sin, is Penny’s story and I am inclined to read it. I do, after all, want to know why her parents were killed. I liked Wedded in Scandal enough to give its sequel a chance. I’d call this book a B- read; I appreciated it even as I found the hero and the plot holes at times hard to enjoy.

Sincerely,

Dabney

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