REVIEW: The Liar’s Dice: A Lotus Palace Mystery (The Lotus Palace Mysteries) 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.
Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D.
Lady Bai, called Wei-wei by her aristocratic family, has always been the perfectly obedient daughter–but only on the outside. When she dares to pay a forbidden visit to a public tea garden in men’s clothing, only Gao looks close enough to notice her disguise.
When the pair witnesses a fatal stabbing, Wei-wei discovers that her brother has been hiding secrets. Street-smart with a shady past, the enigmatic Gao becomes her ally as she unravels the mystery, but soon she’s faced with a cruel choice — discover the truth and bring the killer to justice, or protect her family at all costs.
***First published in the GAMBLED AWAY: Historical romance anthology****
Dear Ms. Lin,
After reading so many of your Tang Dynasty books I’ve come to realize that I like them so much because I learn something while I’m immersed in them. Not only do I get interesting characters, I get an interesting world laid out for me and for a brief time, I feel I’m seeing this place and these people.
Wei-Wei, or to call her formally Bai Wei-ling, is the only daughter of the Bai household. Her older brother Huang (whose story was told in the book “The Lotus Palace”) is a bored government flunky but he passed his grueling exams thanks in part to clever Wei-Wei’s tutoring. Thousands sit for these three day long exams every three years in the hope of passing and entering government service. Pass it and you’re set. Fail it and not only you but your entire family might sink into poverty or humiliation. The stakes are as high as the temptation for some to do anything to ensure success.
But while her brother now has his (however boring) job, Wei-Wei remains at home, tutoring their younger brother (and boy do I want a book with his story – please, pretty please!) and being an outwardly dutiful daughter. It’s not that she doesn’t love helping her brothers, as it’s always family first before self, but Oh. My. Heavens. she’s bored. She wants the freedom that her sister-in-law had before marriage (even though she realizes that she has little actual idea of the life Yue-ying led as a servant). So after carefully saving her pin money for months and filching one of Huang’s flamboyant robes from his student days, Wei-Wei gets a servant to help her and heads out for an evening at Mingyu’s tea garden.
Outside, the air had grown cooler, but my cheeks were flushed. I had succeeded. I’d pried open a door and wedged a stone into the gap. My little world was a bit larger now.
Wei-Wei is smart enough to know that she’s only got a hope of passing as a man if she keeps quiet and in the shadows and for the most part, with a little help from Mingyu (who immediately susses things out), she does. It’s on the way home that Wei-Wei runs into someone who knows her brother – or at least his clothes – and sees a murder.
This is not a romance. There is a meeting with a rough-around-the-edges man who will figure in Wei-Wei’s efforts to discover what happened that night and to whom she is attracted (though of course she knows she shouldn’t be and that her brother will be mad) but at the end of this novella, there is no HEA or even HFN. There is lingering interest and a lingering glance that promises possible future meetings but that’s all.
Instead, Wei-Wei gets to show off some of her intellect and kinda sorta impress former constable Wu Kaifeng with her information and clues from the night of the murder. She also makes an impression on rough-edged Gao when she maintains her calm and tries to reason her way out of danger because of course she ends up in some.
I liked how Wei-Wei is shown as being smart instead of us merely being told that she is. She studies how to dress and act before going out the first night and later when she does end up in danger, she can think back and tick off the entirely logical reasons why she trusted someone. When she gets a chance to see an actual government exam, she can’t help but sit down and read over it, thrilled to do so when she never thought she’d be able to. Her efforts to avoid getting married also make sense. The way the murder was solved and Wei-Wei was rescued were a little sketchy at the end yet it did make sense. But the main focus of the story is Wei-Wei and how she blossoms. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the intrepid and clever Wei-Wei. B