Hi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-commHi, my name is Jacqueline, I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in love with this book.
This thing kicks ass. And, I don't mean in the "let's-create-comedic-commentary-for-the-sake-of-an-amusing-hyperbolic-review" kind of kick-assery. I mean legitimate, I-glommed-this-mofo-in-one-day level of quality. So, what's this puppy about? Okay, quick run down; The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lie, a historical romantic mystery set in China during the Tang Dynasty which follows Yue-ying, a scarred indentured servant working in a Courtesan pleasure house, and Bai Huang, a privileged aristocratic playboy, both of whom are set by circumstances to solve a Who-Done-It murder mystery. And subsequent awesomeness ensues.
First off, let me just put it out there that while I do have some issues regarding the story (we'll get to those a minute), I have to say it; The Lotus Palace is basically the literary equivalent of the TARDIS. I shit you not, from Chapter One this sucker takes you out of your Modern Day Bore-ville and transplantes your ass to ancient China. The textures of the writing are hardcore realistic. So much effort is put to the smallest details in the setting, from Chinese social class structure to the character's attire to dietary rituals, making your brain feel immersed in awesome culture all without becoming boring or textbook-ish.
That said, while I'm fangirling over this thing like a Belieber at her first Justin concert, there are a few figurative landmines sprinkled in the recipe of this novel. "The characters, perchance?" you might be thinking. Nope. In fact, I am completely on board with the ideology that says Huang and Yue-ying are IRL people. While Yue-ying does seem to be given more character development, with Huang kind of feels pushed to the back-burner, I'm okay with this criticism. For the most part, The Lotus Palace is largely told from our heroine's point of view. So such favored attention makes sense. Both characters are still likeable, believable, and interesting.
"The plot?" you could be pondering. Nope-nope. The external conflicts of this piece of fiction, while obviously serving as the Forced Proximity Vehicle by which our two leads are granted interaction, it works. The mystery is believable because just enough focus is directed its way without feeling like a Scooby Doo special. What's more, it paves the way for allowing the book's secondary characters to feel fully realized and dynamic.
"Screw you, Jacquie, I'm done playing your guessing games!" you're now thinking. Okay! Here it is; the big ol' answer to What The Hell Is My Problem is basically the romance between hero and heroine. Yeah, okay, so that was a lot of hyperbolic expository buildup for not a lot of payoff; sue me. As is, while I was in copious love with the initial sexual tension and relationship dynamic between Huang and Yue-ying during the first arc of their story, it kind of died a quiet death from the second to third act. I really can't explain what happened, either; which is not helpful, I know. The two had really rockin' chemistry in the first several chapters, but after the story got rolling it's like their relationship was simultaneously rushed and ignored. What's worse, along with getting fewer relationship development scenes the more the story progressed, I also really struggled buying them as couple-material.
AND THIS FACT KILLS MY SOUL! Why the text-screaming? Because the quality of this story was frackin' phenomenal! The writing was amazing, the pacing was amazing-er, and the characters were the book-people equivalent of chocolate+orgasms+free money; basically all the things that make life awesome. Sadly, our two leads just felt stale, especially when considering their relationship culminates at the end of the book in a pretty unbelievable way. Without activating the Spoiler Bomb, I will say that while I straight up demand an HEA in my romances, I want my Happily Ever Afters to not feel as fake as Pamela Anderson's chest. Even more of a bummer, the ending of The Lotus Palace does give me my couple being a couple, but it does so in a very rushed, unsatisfactory delivery.
Still! Aside from all my bitchy bemoaning, I still gotta give high fives to the author of this little gem. Jeannie Lin kept me hooked throughout my reading experience with this book. I did genuinely care about the characters, and my attention was all wrapped up in the story like a puppy with a ball made of bacon. Yes, I do wish more time had been spent on Huang and Yue-ting's relationship, and yes, while I seriously regret this author's use of time-fast-forwarding in the book, I still stick by my recommendation. Ms. Lin, your book was awesome. Please, give me more!
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed-wall room complete with self-hugging jackets for that crazy-sauce outburst, but it was so worth being committed over. Alas, lock me away Johnny, for I have recently come to the sad conclusion that books are not healthy for you. In fact, they're a bit dangerous to your well being, and unquestionably no-good for your sanity. Books like No Good Duke Goes Unpunished make it very, VERY difficultimpossible emotionally traumatizing to separate fiction from reality. Why? Well!
When a book kicks much ass, you want that thing to be real, dammit. And, let's face it, we're all secretly convinced that Temple and Mara are walking-talking people. Those two characters are the epitome of a huge honkin' bowl of Awesome sprinkled with a sugary goodness pile of Emotional Agency. Yes, yes, our characters are believable, they're likable, they're strong; they're all of that. But, far, *far* more importantly, their back-stories, their personal identities, AND their personal growth, both independently as well as a couple over the course of novel, brings these two fictional peeps into a hot, zesty fiesta of damned good reading.
Oh, and that's not even broaching the topic of the plot! This story is just damned good; all of it. DAMNED GOOD I SAY! The conflict is nuanced and layered, operating as an external crisis driven by internal emotional pain. The progressing of plot points is so well executed in sensical construction that even the most ADHD spasmodic, "Oh-Look-Something-Shiny!" reading attention span would remain hooked throughout every friggin' chapter. The smexy smokin' sensual chemistry (yay for alliterations!) that sparks in every scene between our hero and heroine is, in my obnoxiously unimportant opinion, serious justification for making this Book-Crack-level worthy.
Not good enough for ya to be convinced to read this glorious collection of words? Well, fine! Then how about a story chock full of piss-your-pants-roller-coaster-ing emotional hits within the plot? Temple's Mr. Angsty-Angst man from Angstville level of mistakenly misplaced self-hate? Or Mara's I'm-Apparently-The-Most-Bravely-Bad-Ass, Most-Independently-Self-Reliant-Vagina-Owner moniker holder in Romance Land? Still not convinced? FINE! Throw in some amaze-balls beautimous writing, some burn-this-mother-down hot sex scenes, AND majestic perpetual plot momentum! Because, ya know, as great effing books do. SO HOW? ABOUT? NOW?!
I really do.
Post Review Postscript:
Dear Sarah MacLean: You're birthed in win, and your DNA is basically the equivalent of diamonds dipped in liquid gold. This has long been acceptable scientific truth for you, for your books up until No Good Duke Goes Unpunished have proven as much. Here I must put it to you, though, that you are a mastery of awesomeness. That itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny way you just SHOCKED THE EVER LOVIN' CRAP-LOVE out of your readership with those last two lines of the epilogue about a CERTAIN surprise you've been harboring over the course of three novels? Well. You are officially Queen of Romance. Here's your well deserved fist bump, good woman.
You wanna what I love? Bad-ass heroines who rock capability and personal agency like it's a Def Leppard farewell tour. You know what I really, reallyYou wanna what I love? Bad-ass heroines who rock capability and personal agency like it's a Def Leppard farewell tour. You know what I really, really love? Independent and confident female characters that save their own damn selves when stuck in a hopeless situation all while maintaining personal identity. You know what I love more than all that; said supposedly anachronistic heroine in an historical romance.
Artemis Greaves is my favorite non-person person, not the least of which is because life has screwed her blue, and yet she survives. This character is well written, fascinating, interesting, bold, and does things in Duke of Midnight that make me stand up and hug her on a perpetual basis. Her counterpart, Maximus? Not so much.
This novel rocks it with character development and an elegantly simplistic plot...but kind of sucks mammalian testicles when it comes to hero-tastic awesomeness. Maximus is believable, yep, and he's got legit internal conflicts, double-yep, but he's kind of one dimensional. He's sort of just there, believably so indeed, but unquestionably more of the supporting actor to Artemis' lead. Who knows what the frickity-frack reason for this is, really? Maybe it's the seemingly surplus of scenes told from our heroine's POV? Maybe it's the plot which, while heavily focused on Maxi-boy, doesn't really seem all that prominent in the final analysis. Maybe it's Maybelline?
Yeah, okay, so that was admittedly a bit pretentious sounding, and so vague it probably gave you a headache, BUT! Such brain-vomit is relevant because while our hero is second to our heroine, he's still viably written. We see him feel his feels and make an impact on the story and do all sorts of other awesome stuff. Oh! Speaking of the story...
(...you like that segway? I worked on it all week.) You remember back in the good old days of two paragraphs ago, when I said the plot was elegantly simplistic? Well, it was, but more to the point, and largely the only reason why this novel doesn't get a Woot-Woot 5 Star ranking...but honestly the entire St. Giles subplot could have been completely removed from the book with little to no real consequence. After altering the hero's internal conflict only just a smidgen, the whole big swashbuckling-meets-vengeful-hero-of-the-night not only felt a bit forced and random in the dynamic of the plot, but it was boring.
There's a whole giant subplot about our hero's family and St. Giles and a bunch of other stuff that my brain just kind of went "Doooooooooon't caaaaaaare" every time the book jumped back to That Topic. Luckily these scenes weren't all that frequent, but they were there and thus, yeah, not a fan. Still! As somewhat weird as that subplot felt, the romance in this romance novel kicked all of the ass!...Well, mostly. At the end of the day, I totally bought the Artemis+Maximus ship, and I'm glad it sailed because dat heat doe!
These two had chemistry that sparked all of the smexy, and they believably needed one another, both in and out of bed. But (and that's a big damn) but I felt by their This Is Our Culmination End-Of-The-Book Scene that...well...how to put this lightly?...Basically their love story felt rushed. It went from, "Let's resist! Now let's bang! NOW let's avoid each other for a hot minute! NOW LET'S LOVE DAMMIT!"
Which is good and all, but by that point I was just like, "Yay" instead of "OH MY GOD YES YOU TWO ADORABLE BASTARDS...YESSSSS!" which is actually the reaction I prefer.
Not sure what the hell all that means, but hey I like the book and I loved the heroine and I loved me some of that romance.
So! Screw my above bitching, and read this thing dammit! READ IT NOW BECAUSE I'M SCREAMING IN ALL CAPS, OKAY?!