Butterfly Swords
by Jeannie Lin
(Harl. Historical, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0373296149
***
Butterfly Swords is a huge success when it comes to the setting. The tale takes place in China during the time of the Tang Dynasty, and new author Jeannie Lin colors the story with details that are deftly placed. Readers looking for something different should find a copy and settle in for a treat.

As the story opens, Princess Ai Li is enroute to her arranged marriage to governor/warlord Li Tao. The reader is soon clued in that Ai Li has engineered a different outcome, with the help of a trusted advisor. She recently discovered that Li Tao was responsible for the death of one of her brothers, and she will not marry him. Under the guise of a kidnapping, Ai Li escapes and begins the journey back to her family, where she is sure she can convince her father to disavow the arrangement once he knows the truth about Li Tao’s treachery.

Ai Li carries with her a set of butterfly swords, short fighting instruments with which she is particularly adept. Unfortunately, the men who were enlisted to protect her have other plans. Their attempt to drug her is foiled when Ai Li unknowingly gives her tainted rice to a blue-eyed stranger at a tavern who looks particularly hungry. Ryam, a warrior, recognizes what is happening to him and between the two of them, they manage to fight their way free. Now Ai Li is alone except for the handsome “White Demon.. Ryam reluctantly agrees to escort Ai Li, whom he nicknames “Ailey,” back to her family.

This is a road romance, and as Ai Li and Ryam get to know one another, their attraction grows. Ryam arrived as a mercenary on the Silk Road trade route and has spent the past five years traveling around the region with a band of warriors. He’s a skilled swordsman, but as a non-native, he’s looked down upon. Ai Li, with her delicate strength, fascinates him, even though he knows most Chinese would be happy to see him dead. So the highborn Chinese princess and the European soldier-for-hire are certainly no easy match for one another.

Jeannie Lin does a fine job of characterizing Ai Li, and readers get to know her well. Her life as the only daughter of a highborn house is finely detailed, and it’s easy to sympathize with her role as a marriage pawn in her father’s role as Emperor. The father is not a villain, either; Ai Li’s marriage was arranged for a political alliance, but the Emperor loves his daughter as much as his sons, an affection which plays heavily into the climax of the story.

Ryam doesn’t fare as well. He’s less detailed, and rather generic; other than lusting after Ai Li and harboring suspicions about her story – she passes herself off as the daughter of a tea merchant – there isn’t a lot to him other than his good looks, muscles, and fighting prowess. The romance between the two happens quickly, and isn’t entirely believable. There are many, many scenes of Ai Li wondering what it would be like to become intimate with Ryam and Ryam grinding his teeth as he fights his lust… you get the picture. Yet, he’s an honorable sort and tries to dissuade Ai Li, knowing there’s no future for them. I liked that aspect of his character, very much.

Butterfly Swords is an interesting diversion for a romance, and Jeannie Lin has undeniable talent. I’m looking forward to returning to her world of ancient China for her next release. Kudos to Harlequin for bringing her voice into print. Readers, this is a debut worth hunting up and enjoying.

--Cathy Sova


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