A passion-packed short story left me desperate for more.
In a genre that can sometimes feel quite limited in scope, it’s unfortunate – but probably natural – that a lot of the reviews Jeannie Lin will get will focus on the setting instead of the writing. But after reading The Taming of Mei Lin, a very short story released by Harlequin Historical Undone on 1 September, I found myself eager to read more because Jeannie Lin’s beautiful writing style drew me so deeply in to this fascinating time period.
The Taming of Mei Lin is set in China in 710 A.D. Around 35-pages long, it’s the prequel to her novel Butterfly Swords, which will be released in October by Harlequin Historical.
The heroine, Mei Lin, is being harassed by a local official because she spurned his offer of marriage, declaring that she’d only marry a man who beat her in a sword fight. When gorgeous Shen Leung – a legendary wandering swordsman – arrives in her village and tests her skill, she realizes he’s her one chance to escape her lonely life. More than that, though, she’s drawn to him in a way she’s never been to anyone.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a short story, but Jeannie Lin packs a lot in. The language is sensuous, the tension almost unbearable, and the plot twisty as a snake. This is one of my favorite passages, soon after Mei Lin arrives at Shen Leung’s room to kill him for (accidentally) publicly humiliating her.
They were still lying among the wreckage of the sleeping cot with the quilt tangled between them. She went still and soft beneath him. He could feel her heart beating against his chest. The last dregs of wine still swam in his blood and he sank his head down over her shoulder. The day had brought a long journey, an unexpected duel, several rounds of drinking and then finally this wild tussle with a beautiful she-demon. The scent of her hair assailed him. Orange blossoms mixed with something mysterious and feminine.
“You smell nice,” he said dully.
She said nothing. All he did was turn his face the slightest bit and his cheek brushed inadvertently against hers. Smooth, cool skin.
He inhaled. “You wore perfume to come and kill me?”
I love how familiar the imagery seems at first – a cot, a quilt, a tipsy hero, a duel – then the smell of orange blossoms reminds me these characters live in a time and place I’ve never explored in fiction before. It makes me stop and reconsider what that room looks like, that quilt and that cot. The hero had been drinking rice wine, not a tankard of ale, and the duel had been fought with Chinese swords, not pistols.
This story’s a beautiful reminder of love’s universality – that you didn’t have to live in Regency England to fear rejection, fight for the person you love, or triumph when you learned your passion was returned. But more than that, it’s a well-written, engrossing story.
As a woman who loves both beautiful writing and unusual settings, I’m thrilled Jeannie Lin’s work is being published. Now I just have to figure out how to get my hands on Butterfly Swords, since Harlequin doesn’t deliver to the UK and I hate reading on my computer.
*Update: Butterfly Swords will be sold by Book Depository in the UK. Huzzah!
Heat level: 3 (sensual)
Oh good grief. I promise I’m not stalking you, but I read this book on the plane trip to the other side of the country last weekend, and I couldn’t agree more with your book review. I loved it. My only grumble was that I wished it wasn’t a short novella. It was all too short for me.
Hey, stalk away! I wished it was longer, too. It whetted my appetite for Butterfly Swords! I’m kicking myself that I didn’t put myself forward to review it months ago when it came up for The Season reviewers. Now I have to wait until it actually comes out. *grumble*