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 ;)
I think this is the most romantic of Jeannie Lin's books I've read so far. All the other ones seem to be so forbidden all the time, stolen moments of bliss against a situation of how the relationship would never be accepted by society. Sure, this has that too, but it takes some time to get there. The first fourth of the story: flirting, courtship, wooing with gifts. Quite sweet actually, with Yue-ying's stubborn practicality and Bai Huang's privileged fop attitude.
Then finally, mutual familiarity and closeness is accepted, and worries about social class, money, and reputation take over. The tension between the two lead characters from Bai Huang's social advantage over Yue-ying is delicately explored, and I could imagine that hundreds of years ago in the late Tang dynasty, an aristocrat and a former prostitute could grow to love each other as equals.
My other favorite relationship is the one between Yue-ying and her sister, the beautiful courtesan Mingyu (who features as protagonist in the sequel The Jade Temptress). It's a complicated relationship arising from their separation of ten years after being sold by their parents, reunited after Mingyu managed to buy Yue-ying's freedom and bring her home as a personal attendant. Still, they pick up the pieces as best they can and remain dedicated to one another, united in a dream of one day having more choices than those available to a courtesan--in reality a glorified sex slave--and the sister she watches over.
There is something about this story that feels very sensitive and emotionally nuanced, while The Jade Temptress is daring and seductive. No one can top a twisted suitor as a villain surely.
Jeannie Lin is fast becoming one of my go-to authors and I'm debating which book to go after next. I am very angry that no library in my entire county stocks her steampunk series. Ugh!