I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;)
This is my third Jeannie Lin and competes with The Jade Temptress for stunning historical detail.
What surprised me the most was the element of friendship. There is an extremely thrilling villain who shows up in the middle, and Yan Ling and Fei Long standing shoulder to shoulder, facing off obstacles together to defeat the odds had such an air of camaraderie that I almost forgot it was a romance book, up until the obligatory sex scene.
To be honest, the love between them seemed a lot more like childish crushing, particularly on Yan Ling's side. Having grown up as something of a street urchin-ish, I did question whether she was capable of something mature, passionate, and long-lasting, particularly within the social stratifications of the time. In an alternate mental rewrite I thought it would make a great swashbuckler, with the two ending up as eternal best friends as opposed to husband and wife.
We have a wonderfully colorful secondary character in Bai Shen, who I loved because I recognized him. Or wish I did. The guy who sarcastically recites passionate romantic poetry, gives dramatic bows to everyone, *winks winks* when he sees you falling in love and pulls sneaky pranks just to piss you off--but has your back in your worst moments even after he's been rejected.
One thing Jeannie Lin captures really well is the prominence of legend in a cultural psyche. At one point the story of the Maiden of Yue is performed in theater, and I could imagine the excitement it must have had on Tang dynasty urban audiences just through a single scene. An archery contest near the end is literally modeled after the myth of Houyi, with Fei Long's legendary skill put to test in comparison to his former achievements.
The crowd began to whisper that down at the end of the line was a young archer who had not only hit every target, but whose skill and technique was as clean and fluid as a line of poetry. He wasted not one movement, not one arrow.
It seems by the Tang dynasty that martial prowess was increasingly giving way to civilian virtues, archery being popularized an aristocratic sport in the cultural eye rather than military skill.
Aside from that, the clothes, food, buildings, calligraphy was like walking back into time.
Looking forward to reading more of this very enjoyable author.