REVIEW: The Dragon and The Pearl by Jeannie Lin
Dear Ms. Lin:
I’m thrilled that you are writing this series and thrilled that Harlequin is publishing it and giving us such in-your-face Asian covers instead headless bodies that hint at its Eastern origins. I am not super familiar with this area of history and I read this story more as if it were a fantasy tale instead of historical romance. Not sure if that affected my reading but that’s my perspective.
What I am less thrilled about are some of the authorial choices that were made.
The Pearl is a beautiful and famed courtesan named Lady Ling Suyin. Her honorific title is Ling Guifei which means “Precious Consort.” She is considered to be the late emporer’s favored courtesan because after having her in his bed, he never took another. When he died, she was retired to a manor on the land within the Imperial province of Chengdu where she hoped to live out her life in peace. However, with the new emporer in place, loyalties are being tested and war is rumbling across the land. General Gao Shiming is rumored to be in pursuit of Ling Guifui and this leads to her abduction by The Dragon, Governor Li Tao.
Li Tao commands an army and land in the South. He feels his obligation is to hold the Southern border as commanded by the previous emperor even if this is countermanded by the existing emperor. He knows war is coming and Emperor Shen has not shown the power to unite the military governors spread across the vast China land. Li Tao had considered it an alliance, had accepted Emperor Shen’s daughter as a peace offering but she married another, and thus no alliance was struck. Li Tao not sure what is important about this courtesan but whatever it is, he plans to pull it out of her one way or another.
Neither realize their commonalities. Their past is similar, the holds over their lives, threatening whatever peace they may have thought to have achieved, is similar. What is different, perhaps, is that Li Tao is resigned to death. He has always known that dark hand was near him and therefore what is a doomed battle against the new emperor but destiny?
Ling, however, is willing to fight for her survival. Years of palace intrigue taught Ling to school her features, hide her thoughts, and read others like a fortune teller reads the tea leaves. Her beauty was only one of the tools in her arsenal. Ling and Li fall in love slowly, coming to appreciate in each other the sacrifices that made them who they are today and the need they both had for companionship. They both experienced a very dark time in their life and committed some very bad acts.
In Butterfly Swords, there seemed to be pains taken to show that there were no villians, only people with different perspectives, but in this book there were definitely people who acted villianous and yet the resolution for these people was akin to a stern (or even quiet) talking to. I failed to see the gray in the actions of Gao or the underworld boss, Lao Sou, who used people as if they were things, weapons to be used and discarded when no longer potent.
The defanging of one particular character in the story was troublesome because of how I was asked to see him as some harmless old man in need of loving family when, in fact, he recruited young helpless boys off the street and bound them to him with acts of violence and promises of vengeance.
I felt like some message of peace and tranquility was being delivered, but it was a sermon I didn’t quite understand. I felt cheated in the denouement and while I loved the journey I was taken on, I found the destination disappointing. It’s tough to grade this book because some of it was beautiful and I loved the setting and the richness of the period. I thought Ling and Li Tao were well matched. But there were some big moments of disappointment particularly the as it related to Ling* but mostly how the story was unwound at the end. C+
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[spoiler]*Ling is a virgin courtesan and was a virgin because Emporer Shen was wounded in battle and could no longer get an erection (or at least that is what I understood). He elevated Ling to Precious Consort as a cover for his loss of manhood. His fascination of Ling was understood to be why she was a favored concubine. I understood this reason but it irritated me as well. [/spoiler]
Dying to read this one!
Looks interesting but I know in advance that the names of hero and heroine sound so similar that they’re going to confuse me ( Ling and Li? really?)
@ Junne… would kinda ruin the story if she used non-asian names…
Li Tao was always two words for me so I didn’t find it confusing but I do understand what you are saying regarding two characters with the same letter beginning the first name.
@Junne: She’s mostly going to be called Suyin (since that’s her first name), which might make it easier.
Gorgeous, sumptuous cover.
Argghhhh. Why, why, why that trope? (in your spoiler) Would have loved this story if not for that trope. I hate that as much as when I see it done to female spies.
I thought courtesan meant an exclusive and selective prostitute, who generally ran her own life (as opposed to being run by a brothel madam) and concubine the name for a non-wife committed to some powerful person.
Unless the typo is on your part, I’m not touching any book of this author’s with a ten-foot pole because she spells “Guifei” as “Guifui”. That’s basic.
Also, it’s so inconsistent to leave the title “Guifei” and translate the titles “General” and “Governor”. Why not leave it as “Jiangjun” and whatever the actual term was for governor (there are several possibilities)?
@SAO That confuses me too. Why is she a consort? A consort implies some sort of head status, does it not? Isn’t that the place of the Empress? Even so, how can she be a courtesan? I’d have used concubine, and neither of the former terms.
@galen: It’s a typo on my part. Thanks for catching it. In the book it says “Ling Guifei”. She also refers to the military governors as “the jiedushi.”
In the book, Lin also uses concubine to refer to the Imperial harem. Ling Guifei was an honorarium given to Ling after the Empress died, I believe.
@SAO & @galen: Yeah, that’s my understanding too. Imperial consorts (or concubines; not the empresses) had certain privileges, status and rights that went far beyond what a mere courtesan could have, and imperial consorts couldn’t sleep with anybody but the emperor. Also IIRC guifei was the highest status an imperial consort/concubine could achieve.
@Jane: Thanks for the clarification. My understanding of any Chinese history is sketchy at best and culled from various period dramas of dubious historical accuracy, but basic consistency in using pinyin terms or English-equivalents and pinyin accuracy are, I feel, the essential elements to a romance set in China.
I’d like think I’d give this a try, but honestly, if I wanted to read a romance set in China I’d read it in Chinese. Now that I think about it, I think I have a bias in that I automatically think that a romance set in China will be more authentic if it’s in Chinese rather than in English. It’s probably completely unsupportable, but there it is.
@galen: That’s because most of us who grew up watching Chinese period pieces are used to the dramatic idioms and the cultural meanings that can’t be translated into another language (like reading French or Spanish poetry in English). The story is there, but the nuances might be lost. With an epic war story, usually we have the traditional patriotic hero who sacrifices everything, life and limb, for country and clan. And the political intrigues of famous dynasties always involved historical names that are now revered to god status.
The most famous Guifei we know is Yang Guifei (Yeong Kway-fei for us Cantonese speakers), one of the Four Beauties. Those familiar with Imperial Court affairs and intrigues cannot help but bring that name and story up. Guifei is a very rare and high “honor,” since that title was bequeathed to Yang especially for her, higher than the previous Huifei.
Anyway, this brings to mind all the comments whenever there is a post about medieval realities. I sometimes (not always) have the same problems with Chinese historicals and characters, but I usually let that go. After all, I really believe those warriors could walk on bamboo with the use of Chi Qong while reciting/battling Chinese poetry at their opponent :).
I love that Asian characters are being featured – however i’m not a fan of the mixing of languages. It just throws me off, especially since i have to pause a moment and remember what the word means, sometimes the author just assumes you know the meaning of a word in another language.