Tang Dynasty China, 824 A.D.
Dao was raised as a servant, but when her half-sister flees an arranged marriage to a chieftain, Dao is sent in her place as Princess An-Ming. Such a future is better than she could have hoped for, yet she dreads a passionless union with a stranger.
Taken as a virtual hostage to the Imperial court, Kwan-Li is torn between his people and his duty to the emperor. He is bound by honor to escort the princess safely across the wild and untamed steppe, but the greatest danger they face on the long journey may be the forbidden temptation of each other...
There is nothing more satisfying for me as a reader than reading a sequel. It feels as though I am getting together with old friends—well, usually old friends who had a plot twist dangling in the last book. Though I read My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin a while ago, I had no trouble at all immersing myself once again into the world of the Chinese Tang Dynasty in 824 AD. This novella was a satisfying, entertaining read and just the right book to end a stressful day.
Though it is not necessary to have read My Fair Concubine to catch up with An Illicit Temptation, it is worth noting that the sequel begins right where the first book left off. (It’s nearly impossible for me to avoid a major spoiler here, so stop reading and go get the first book before you read any further!) Dao, a servant in the household from My Fair Concubine has agreed to take the place of her half-sister and become a chieftain’s wife. The Khitans have a fierce reputation, but an arranged marriage will secure peace between the Hans and the Khitans. As her escort, Kwan-Li, is charged with Dao’s safe travel to her potential new husband.
Dao has little experience being a princess, and though she tries, she finds it quite boring to be catered to at every moment. Add to that her attraction to Kwan-Li, and she finds it nearly impossible to stay inside her covered carriage and nap. Instead, she wants to ride. While this request is granted, Kwan-Li is aware that any delays in the journey could cause problems later. There are rival tribes also sending women to try to marry the chieftain and secure the advantages of such a match.
Kwan-Li, for his part, struggles against the two worlds that he maneuvers between—the more civilized one of the Han, and the Khitan, considered to be more barbaric. This theme of being caught between two worlds also applies to Dao, as she is caught between her former life as a servant and her new life as a princess. Though each main character makes less than honorable choices at times, there is a core decency and dignity to both of them. Any misunderstandings were dealt with openly and relatively honestly. What a breath of fresh air. Though each character has secrets, the revealing of the secrets never made me feel manipulated as a reader. Instead, the revelations felt natural and well-timed.
I would have loved if this novella would have been longer and that there would have been more characters to enjoy. I am fascinated by the time period and setting of Lin’s books. They occur in a time and place that I have not read much about and each new little piece of historical knowledge makes me enjoy Lin’s books even more. Add to that a sweet and well-written romance, and you have a winning combination.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina