Title: My Fair Concubine
Author: Jeannie Lin
May Contain Spoilers
Yan Ling tries hard to be servile—it’s what’s expected of a girl of her class. Being intelligent and strong-minded, she finds it a constant battle.
Proud Fei Long is unimpressed by her spirit—until he realizes she’s the answer to his problems. He has to deliver the emperor a "princess." In two months can he train a tea girl to pass as a noblewoman?
Yet it’s hard to teach good etiquette when all Fei Long wants to do is break it, by taking this tea girl for his own….
I love historical romances, but I occasionally want a change of scenery from the flood of Regencies that crowd stores shelves. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good house party as well as the next Regency junkie, but every now and again, I want something different. I have always been interested in history, so I’m game to read a romance set in any time period. My favorites are Greece, Rome, and Asia. There are not enough books of any kind set in these locations, so when I saw Jeannie Lin’s latest release, a Harlequin Historical set in China during the Tang Dynasty, I was excited to check it out.
First off, I wanted to comment on the cover. It’s beautiful. I love the pinks and the splashes of blue, but most of all, I love that the male looks Asian (the heroine, not so much, as her head is turned, I’ll give it the benefit of doubt). I love his hair, I love his expression, and I love his armored tunic. The cover is distinctive, and it made me look at it twice. I don’t normally read the Harlequin Historical imprint; I’m not sure why, but I usually gloss over these titles every month, preferring to grab a couple contemporary romances instead. This cover made me stop and want to read the book, because I could immediately determine that the setting wasn’t Europe or the American West. Pubs, can we please have more diversity in romance, both in terms of characters and settings?
When Yan Ling is tossed out of the only home she has ever known because of her temper, she is forced to beg a favor from Fei Long, the man she dumped a pot of tea on and the reason she got herself into trouble in the first place. Because Fei Long is in a pickle himself, he agrees to help Yan Ling in a moment of desperation. His sister has run off with her lover, abandoning her duty to marry a Khitan tribal leader. Now without a “princess” to present to the Khitan to cement their uneasy alliance with the Tang Empire, Fei Long fears that his family name will be shamed. With nothing to lose, he convinces himself that he can teach the peasant Yan Ling to carry off an impossible ruse. He will instruct her to be a lady, and pass her off as his missing sister Pearl.
Yan Ling’s act of temper opens up the world for her. The tea girl finds herself traveling to the capital, away from the small village where she grew up. Yan Ling has never known her parents; she was abandoned as an infant, and the owners of the tea house took her in. She has known nothing but hard work, and the thought of being treated like a princess is so alluring that she can’t turn it down. Not only will she have enough to eat, she’ll also have a warm place to sleep, and she’ll never have to work again. But first she must learn to behave like a well-bred lady, and not a lowly tea girl.
Because of the class differences between Yan Ling and Fei Long, the romance is very subtle for most of the book. There are forbidden glances, the tantalizing brush of fingers during writing lessons, the glimpse of a bare forearm. The sexual tension tormented both characters, and it was a nice change of pace that they didn’t shed their clothes within the first ten pages. I never considered how sensual the act of writing could be, but when Fei Long instructs Yan Ling how to write hanzi characters, the mere act of stroking the brush against the paper was transformed into a drool worthy exercise. Think about it for a moment. Fei Long’s strong hand directing Yan Ling’s clumsy fingers to sweep the brush against the paper with a bold flourish, his chest pressing ever so slightly against her slim back. Yeah, sign me up for that, because the artistry of that scene was beautiful and poignant.
I liked Yan Ling, and found her a feisty, sympathetic character. While I liked Fei Long, too, there were times when I found him so frustrating. He is an honorable man, and his family’s reputation means the world to him. It is how he defines himself. After his sister throws duty away to be with the man she loves, and after learning that his father wasn’t as disciplined with his own pleasures, Fei Long slips behind a unapproachable mask. His father ran up a ruinous debt, and honor dictates that he pay it back. He closes himself off from Yan Ling, shutting her out of his concerns and anxieties, as he takes on the weight of the world. This leads him to make some very unwise decisions, and I wished he would just open up and let go of his constricting pride.
If you enjoy subtle, slow-burning romances, give My Fair Concubine a try. If you are looking for something different, don’t look any further. This was a quick enjoyable read.
In stores May 22, eBook available June 1
Review copy provided by author