Butterfly Swords -- Jeannie Lin
Book 1 of Tang Dynasty
This book was slow to start up, but once it got going, aside from a few hiccups here and there and some eye-roll-worthy moments, Butterfly Swords was entirely captivating up until the very end. The style is beautifully done and the characters quite readily likable, even if predictable. It DID bring to mind nostalgic FEELS of the days when I used to watch wuxia television series religiously, on repeat.
It was just also more romantic and quite a bit steamier, as well. Whew! **fans self**
After learning that the powerful Li Tao had a hand in her brother's death as well as is planning treason on her father's throne, Shen Ai Li orchestrates a bandit attack on her wedding procession in order to escape her marriage to him. Even despite knowing the shame and disappointment that would befall her and her family because of this act, Ai Li is determined to get back to the capital to reveal this betrayal to her mother and father, the Emperor and Empress of the Tang Dynasty Empire.
Born from a warrior family, Ai Li has only her learned fighting skills and her butterfly swords to defend herself with, until she chances upon a barbarian warrior with a handsome face and blue eyes. Ryam is a ladies' man with wanderlust and a fatalistic outlook after a battle gone bad with imperial soldiers. But Ai Li affects him in a way he had never expected and he finds himself agreeing to protect her on her journey, even as he fights to restrain himself from wanting her or worse yet, falling for her.
I had forgotten that I'd yet to actually review this book fully... or at least as fully as I'd intended to do. This might mean that the book really wasn't all that memorable, but I know that that's not entirely true. Unfortunately, even as I write those words, I have to admit that there really wasn't anything outstanding about Butterfly Swords aside from the beauty of the writing and that nostalgic sense I already mentioned about my memories of watching wuxia series when I was younger.
In a nutshell, the story progressed well and was told well. The characters were created well. And historical China is a different kind of setting for a category romance that is also part romantic suspense. But in the end, the formula for the romance really isn't much different from other romances I've read before because the characters were standard stereotypes and the romance was also quite formulaic.
Ai Li is a great character, don't get me wrong. She's strong and idealistic and quite forward-thinking, especially for a woman born to a very traditional family in historical China. Because even as she talks about her duties and her role as a daughter in the royal family, she still dares to defy and go beyond the typical station of a woman in historical China.
And I'm not saying this as if I think it's a terrible thing for Ai Li to be so strong and forward thinking (even if she does still display the more historically accurate ideals of her time). I love a strong and idealistic, forward-thinking female heroine as much as the next feminist. But historical China is also one of my least favorite eras mainly because I can't stand that whole "women are merely property for their fathers, brothers, and husbands to use as trade" bullshit. Unfortunately, just because I don't like it doesn't mean that I can argue with it, nor does it mean that I would argue with it. That was just how historical China was and nothing can change those facts save for some clever suspension of disbelief in fictional stories here and there.
Historical China was just never a friendly place for women.
Goodness knows that Louis Cha took enough liberties in his own wonderfully created, uber popular, widely beloved and accepted wuxia novels to make them so truly awesome! There are so many strong, idealistic, extremely forward-thinking women in his stories that it makes you forget you're in historical China.
But I digress...
Back to Ai Li, as I was saying: She's a great character, and what I love about her is that she can hold her own in a physical battle even if she can't quite hold her own in a battle of hearts. Because even with all of her ideal traits, she unfortunately comes off as the typical romance novel Mary Sue. She's strong, she's independent, she's intelligent, she's innocent, she's a virgin (thus making her the epitome of sexual innocence), and she's also brave and righteous and endearingly naive. And she's the one woman, ever, who is different enough to "change" our broody, alpha male's life. Because she's special.
Our broody alpha, of course, is a bad boy with a heart of gold, sexually experienced with playboy tendencies, a warrior and a hero, and is mush when he's faced with our heroine. And then there are those underlying tragic reasons why he cannot commit to one woman no matter how in love with her he is.
There is nothing unique about this romance.
HOWEVER, what makes this story enjoyable and readily lovable is the presentation. Once again, the writing is exquisite, the imagery vivid, and the progression done very well. And even with the formulaic love story, I couldn't help but enjoy every moment between Ai Li and Ryam as they got to know each other, little by little, as they traveled together. Despite some of it being exposition or narrative, we still get to see the process of them having conversations, learning little things about each other, and just talking about anything and everything. So even though there's an undertone of lust thickening between the two in the background, their relationships truly is built on a pretty sweet and sincere foundation of caring and friendship.
Some things were a little hard to overlook in the story, especially towards the end of the book when the conclusion required an HEA.
But ultimately, Butterfly Swords is a very enjoyable book and I find myself not quite bothered by the little quibbles here and there. As one of first few category romances in a historical Chinese setting, thus bringing about feelings of nostalgia, I have a feeling that Butterfly Swords may forever have a special place in my heart.
Jeannie Lin is an author I intend to continue following with the rest of this series as well as her other historical romances.
2016 Reading Challenges:
• Goodreads Reading Challenge
• BookLikes Reading Challenge
• Reading Assignment Challenge
• Mount TBR Challenge