REVIEW: The Hidden Moon: A Lotus Palace Mystery (The Lotus Palace Mysteries Book 4) by Jeannie Lin
A well-bred lady and lowly street hustler team up in a historical murder mystery set during China’s glittering Tang Dynasty. Part of the best-selling Lotus Palace series.
Impetuous and well-educated, young Lady Bai has always been the forgotten daughter between two favored sons. However, when Wei-wei’s older brother is tasked with investigating a high-profile assassination, he turns to his clever younger sister for assistance.
Gao is a street-wise scoundrel with a checkered past and a shady reputation. He knows better than to set his sights on the high-born Lady Bai, but when she asks for his help, he can’t refuse.
As the unlikely pair chase down a conspiracy that reaches from the gutters of the capital to the imperial palace, Wei-wei is intent on seeing justice done, while Gao is determined to solve the mystery just for her – even if the attraction between them can never be more than a moment’s longing.
Dear Ms. Lin,
I was thrilled to see that you’d written another book in the Lotus Palace series. And not just any book but the long awaited romance story of Bai Wei-ling. In trying to look up what her name means, I came across two possibilities depending on how her name is accented. One meaning is authority/prestige while the other is to disobey/to go against orders. Either would apply to her and both describe her perfectly. Wei-wei is definitely not a woman to just sit back and wait to see what life has in store for her.
For those who haven’t had the fun of meeting her yet, Wei-wei (to use her family’s pet name for her) is the middle child and only daughter of the aristocratic Bai family. She’s also smarter than her older brother who freely admits that he probably wouldn’t have passed the grueling Imperial exams had it not been for her tireless tutoring. Since she’s a female and unable to take them for herself nor to enter government service, first helping the studies of Elder Brother Huang and now younger (half brother) Chang-min is Wei-wei’s way of helping uphold the honor of her family.
But Wei-wei chafes at the restrictions of her gender. She’s twenty-five now which is on the outer edges of spinsterdom and she knows her mother’s efforts to find her daughter a suitable husband won’t be thwarted much longer. Wei-wei has already bribed the matchmaker for years to “forget to mention” her name but that jig is up. Earlier We-wei had reached for and attained a bit of freedom by stealing her brother’s flamboyant clothes, disguising herself as a young scholar and going to the pleasure section of the capitol. There she met Gao, a rough hewn enforcer and street tough. As Gao later tells Wei-wei’s father, he’s done whatever he needed to do to survive.
Wei-wei is fascinated by Gao. Initially it’s more because he’s so different from any man she knows but I think later she realizes that he’s smart and someone who can be depended upon despite his exterior. He also seems to like her adventurous spirit. She feels frissons of excitement around him but also feels at home and secure. She can relax and be herself. Gao, meanwhile, has fallen hopelessly in love with this beautiful young woman he knows he can never have. She’s a rich aristocrat, the daughter of an important family. He’s survived on the streets for almost as long as he can remember and lives by his wits and his “don’t even think of messing with me” reputation.
They’re going to need all their skills and abilities to help solve the reason behind not one but two brutal murders which are somehow tied together in a plot that looks like a challenge to the Emperor himself. And that’s before facing the greatest challenge – Lord Bai.
I’ve been looking forward to Wei-wei’s story for years. She’s the smarter sibling, the outwardly dutiful daughter who longs for more than she fears life will allow her. She loves her family and seeks to uphold familial honor but why, why, why can’t she sit the Imperial exams, get a government position like her father and elder brother and do something in life? Her meeting with Gao in “Liar’s Dice” introduced her to the fascinating world her brother had enjoyed before he found Yue-ying and settled down (with her help in solving the problem of their mésalliance). Though Wei-wei is interested in him, she knows that realistically they probably won’t meet again. Until they do.
Gao wants nothing to do with the mess that he sees enveloping him when Bai Huang seeks out Wu Kaifeng – former constable for the area of Pingkang li. When a young man shows Gao something while trying to pawn it, Gao realizes he ought to show it to someone who knows what it might be and thus gets pulled into what looks like a conspiracy that could reach the top levels of the Palace. That it also puts him in contact with the woman he admits he hopelessly loves is a bonus.
The plot is grounded in historical fact and totally believable. Someone with access to the halls of power is carefully moving pawn pieces and planning mayhem in a country carefully balanced between Imperial power and powerful generals who controlled their own armies. Delicate negotiations – some done by Lord Bai – are needed to keep everything from flaring into war. I love that Bai Huang utilizes his sister’s strengths to help him while Magistrate Li Chen also takes her seriously. Wei-wei is not just said to be but is shown to be a strong and smart woman. Her reputation has even reached beyond the Bai household.
I also love the growing relationship between Gao and Wei-wei. She doesn’t know his true feelings for her and they have to negotiate and cross several roadblocks along the way. It’s all done believably and with attention to historical details. Even the way that Wei-wei maneuvers to end a betrothal she doesn’t want is carefully and skillfully done. She enjoys getting out and facing a challenge but she does that intelligently.
At first Gao isn’t interested in justice, just in earning some money and seeing Wei-wei. Then he does something that proves Gao’s bona fides to Li Chen and later to Lord Bai. Gao is not educated or a smooth gentleman but he’s got integrity. He also shows that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win the hand of the woman he loves.
The mystery takes a while to unravel and some might be disappointed that it doesn’t wrap up with fireworks and drama but it seems realistic for a plot with tentacles reaching up into the heights of power – there will always be people who don’t want the full truth to be known. Things are wrapped up, justice – even if dispensed later – is done, and a final filip is discovered that could have ended in tragedy if everyone hadn’t worked so hard to unearth the truth. In tying up the final bits, Gao also proves himself to Lord Bai – the man he really needs to impress.
There are several characters left with possible stories to tell and I do hope that these will eventually see the light of day but I’m delighted that Wei-wei has her time to shine and finds someone who appreciates her intelligence and verve for life. B+