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?!
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single mistaken assumption must be in want of a glorious ass kicking. What could I possibly be referring to, you might ask? Well, that being MY ass kicking, obviously, and of course MY epic Bitch-You-Crazy-Wrong initial assumption about this book. To quote myself,
"Eh, almost 75 pages in and a distinctive lack of deep POV. This one might not be a gem."
... Yeah. Say, can we hop in the TARDIS real quick-fast and go deliver a ginormous kick to the forehead to Past Jacqueline?
So, in the spirit of not hating too much on the sins of the past, I have to admit that...well, past Jacquie was wrong, but only to a point. This novel DOES rock the stadium down to rubble, but only a bit after page 75. The first four chapters of this little story are atrociously painful. If the Spanish Inquisition were led by Hitler and Jigsaw, even that level of discomfort couldn't compare to how bad this novel tries getting off the ground. When the reader is first introduced to our two lead characters, everything's chaotic. The introductions of their existence is chaotic, the character's initial meeting with on another in the story is chaotic, hell, even the first several exchanges between Griff and Pauline AFTER their "Hey, I'm A Person With A Name And A Face" are just insanely, well, chaotic!
SO MUCH MADNESS! While there is a healthy dose of info-dump that occurs at the onset of the book, most notably during our heroine's first on-page scene, the early part of the book's tone is painfully hurried. Heroine's doing this while running to go do that, and ooh, look! There's THIS factoid about Pauline, all while the hero's hurrying to enact his Hero Plot here and then just OH MY GOD SO MUCH CRAP! ... Honestly, so much was going on for the setup to get Hero A and Heroine B together that I was so, so worried whether or not these two people were going to be believable.
And, yet, I worried for nothing! After an extremely spasmodic sequences of events, once the plot gets underway, Tessa Dare thankfully does slow her roll. Pauline and Griff do begin developing a very keyed up dynamic that is deeply rooted in point of view. These two people become believably grounded in emotional depth the longer they are on-page, both together as a couple and independently as characters. At the beginning of the story, our hero seems just an irresponsible bachelor while our heroine seems just an uncouth servant. Thank spicy tacos these two explore much deeper realities than their initial characterizations. They are beautiful people, dammit, and their romance story is SO wonderful and YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!
Yeah, yeah, admittedly tropes are all over the place in this book, but to me, that's a good thing for I love tropes. Any Duchess Will Do is basically a Cinderella story, if Cinderella the character weren't a pushover lackluster dweeb. (Pauline is so much a better heroine than ol' Cindy!) This is the fairy tale that we WANT to believe, that is believable because all the plot points, all the emotion, all the buildup and drama culminate into a romance and HEA that feels real. If the aching feelings of this book could be bottled and sold, world peace would be instantaneously A Thing. The construction of emotions, dialogue interplay and sexual tension (oh sweet smexy goodness, the chemistry!) alone guarantee Pauline and Griff the gold medal for Most Beautiful Romance, Ever. There exists an open honesty between these two that is so uniquely refreshing. It culminates into one effing hot, most sexy, most intense romance love confessions from the hero truly -ever- written!
"You believe I'd value a strand of jewels above your life? I know we've had our differences, Simms, but that's low. You truly think so little of me?...Tomorrow I can buy my mother another necklace. A better one. A half dozen of them if she likes. Jewels can be replaced." "So can serving girls." "Don't. Don't play that game. When I heard you cry out...it was like a saber to the gut. I wanted to die. I could have found you broken or bleeding, or-" His voice broke. "Or worse. Don't tell me I care about polished rocks on a chain. I want to believe you know me better than that." "I do." "And yet you believe I'd be so upset about a necklace that I'd send you away?""
And, hey, that's just the beginning of the scene. This love confession goes into one seriously beautiful outpouring of manly feels, and it is a thing be witnessed! Griff is such an amazing hero, so elegantly written that he will rip your heart out all over the place. When a man, fiction or otherwise says the following, you love him dammit, whether he exists or not!
"You're an intensely attractive woman. You do know that, don't you? You'd believe me if you could see yourself." "I have seen myself. That's the snag, you see." "No, no. Not in a mirror. I know how mirrors work. They're all in league with the cosmetics trade. They tell a woman lies. Drawing her gaze from one imagined flaw to another, until all she sees is a constellation of imperfections. If you could get outside yourself, borrow my eyes for just an instant...There's only beauty."
Oh, God. You just don't even know! This book is entirely emotionally driven, and the few external moments of conflict are spawned by the internal turmoil within our two leads. The drama is believable, but more than that the story is good. The social confines and boundaries these two face are believably overcome. The quite torturous pain Griff deals with throughout the book is creditably dealt with, and the HEA is plausible. This story reaches into your soul in a way that is shockingly intense, and despite the very rocky start to the book you believe it, lock, stock and barrel. The tropes are fun, yes, and the characters are wonderful, of course, but best of all the book is strong, and the story is gorgeous.