The Lotus Palace
By Jeannie Lin
August 27, 2013
Historical, Mystery, Romance
It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang Li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China...
Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties. Street-smart and practical, she's content to live in the shadow of her infamous mistress—until she meets the aristocratic playboy Bai Huang.
Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely imagine, yet alone share, but as they are thrown together in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang's position means that all she could ever be to him is his concubine—will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart?
Personally, I don't read historical novels all that much. It's not that I have anything against historical novels. It's just that I'm much more into contemporary novels. However, I made an exception when I saw Jeannie Lin's The Lotus Palace. Call it curiosity, or maybe because I was looking for something to cleanse my palate from all the contemporary novels I've been reading. Then imagine my surprise when I was delightfully transported to historical China. The historical details were just wonderful! In short, this novel was definitely a great read!
The story-line was such a delight! I was quite pleased with the world building at the beginning of the novel. The interesting dynamics of the Pingkang Li and the courtesans who are both smart and skilled is very interesting. Truth be told, I'm more familiar with Korean Gisaeng (or Kisaeng) and Japanese Geisha, compared to the Chinese courtesans portrayed in this novel, but I liked learning all about them as I read.
The mystery bit in the story0-line was something I did not expect to read, but when I did, I really liked it! Corruption, greed and selfishness was predominantly portrayed in Pingkang Li, but the mystery part of the story showed that there were still people who were actually kind-hearted and willing to help. This was a great surprise when I read the story.
I also appreciate the complex relationship between Ming Yu and Yue Ying. In the beginning, I was a bit confused because there seemed to be a wall between them, and I could sense a bit of resentment, too, but as I got to read more about them, I began to see that beneath the obvious lady-servant relationship, there's also love and loyalty. It was interesting to unearth the reason why Ming Yu and Yue Ying always had each other's back. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, both of them chose to stick together and make the best of what they had.
As characters, I also love how multi-layered their personalities were. At the onset, Ming Yu was like a bratty courtesan as she was considered one of the most beautiful, but as the story went deeper, Ming Yu was also portrayed as someone diligent and smart, and best of all, caring -- something that I did not expect at all. Then there's also Yue Ying, the opposite of Ming Yu. She's not all that glamorous as Ming Yu, but she's street smart and observant. She's efficient in her work as a servant to Ming Yu, but she's also cunning without being obvious about it. I like how she has a somewhat bitter view of the world, but not so bitter as to fail to see the beauty in things. I also like that she has no misleading illusions of grandeur or romance as regards the men who frequent Pingkang Li, and most especially when she met Bai Huang.
As for Bai Huang, I really appreciate the honesty he displayed later in the novel. It takes great courage for a man at that time to admit that he has made a mistake, and even to admit such mistake to a woman who was way beneath his status. Personally, I find him as one of the most interesting characters in the novel. On the surface, he appears to be carefree and indulgent, just like a spoiled aristocrat, but there's actually more to him than meets the eye. I don't want to put spoilers in my review so I'll leave it at that. haha
Another thing I really appreciate was that the romance between Yue Ying and Bai Huang was given time to grow and develop, rather than happen in an instant. There was definitely an escalation of how they dealt with each other as the novel progressed and I really appreciate this. One scene I really liked was when Bai Huang forced himself onto Yue Ying at the beginning, and she fought him back. That scene was really priceless. It portrayed Bai Huang's folly and Yue Ying's tenacity. It was easily one of my most favorite scenes in the book. My other favorite scene in the novel was the ending, because I like happy endings.
All in all, this novel is definitely a great read! Though it probably has limited readership because it's an Asian historical novel, still, I definitely recommend this to everyone who would love to read an exquisite mix of history, mystery and romance.