As a reader, I love it when I come to trust a writer. This is the wonderful point when I have read a few novels by a particular author, and I have enjoyed them enough that I feel as though I am in capable hands with a new book. This precisely summarizes how I feel about Jeannie Lin and her romantic novels. Her new book, The Jade Temptress, is an example of how well written characters can drive a plot and make for an ultimately satisfying read. This novel is the second in a series that begins with The Lotus Palace, but it is not necessary to have read that book to understand this one.
During the Tang dynasty in China, Mingyu is a performer in every sense. Her moves are calculated to keep her heart safe, to gently manipulate her patrons, and to cultivate her reputation. As the most renowned of the courtesans at the Lotus Palace, she has become used to wealthy clients who long for her body and her submission to their power. She has had the attention of a very important client for a while, and she is comfortable with him. General Deng Zhi, a powerful political figure, is enthralled with Mingyu and she is encouraged to continue her relationship with him. Thought Mingyu is beginning to want her freedom, she lives the only way she knows how—in submission to a powerful man. On a visit to the General, she is surprised to find something she never expected.
He is no longer alive. And his head is missing. Since she is the last one at the scene of the crime, Mingyu becomes the prime suspect.
Wu Keifang, the local constable, is summoned to the scene of the crime and begins to investigate. While his occupation is considered a lowly one and he does not command much respect, Mingyu comes to trust him. Keifang, though not esteemed by all those in power, has a quiet integrity and strength of character that Mingyu comes to rely upon. Even his superior officer, Magistrate Li, trusts Keifang’s judgment. When a visiting official, Inspector Xi Lun, arrives, there is trouble. Xi Lun hates Keifang and will do anything to discredit him. Will he succeed in destroying Keifang and will Mingyu be imprisoned for murder?
Though this mystery is front and center, what really steals the show is the relationship between Mingyu and Keifang. As I have come to expect from Lin’s books, both characters are decent and intelligent.
Mingyu has the greatest awakening in her dawning understanding that controlling men is not the same thing as loving one. Being outwardly beautiful through ritual and flattery is not the same thing as finding common ground with someone. Living under the control of The Lotus Palace and being desired is not the same thing as being truly free. Keifang is the only one who seems to see through her training and treat Mingyu as a woman with choices and a mind of her own. But their relationship is not an easy one. Mingyu has no desire to swap one form of servitude for another, and Keifang is not sure that Mingyu does not just see him as a way out.
The supporting case of this novel is terrific. From Mingyu’s sister Yue-Ying and her brother-in-law Bai Huan to Inspector Xi Lun, each of the characters is well written and interesting. I enjoyed the injections of their personalities into the novel and I would not mind meeting these characters in a future novels.
Lin’s books keep getting better and better for me as I read more of her work. I trust her ability to transport me to another world, to give me characters that I care about, and to get the details of the setting right. So, so highly recommended!
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina