E-Galley Book Review: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Butterfly Swords
by Jeannie Lin
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Publisher: Harlequin
ISBN: 0373296142
Synopsis from the author's official site:
Journey to the very edge of honor, loyalty . . . and love During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury, yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for a defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior… Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li’s innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her – which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted…
Do you know what attracted me to this book? It was the cover. I did not even read the blurb or anything; all I did was take one look at the cover and requested the book right away. It was only after requesting it that I bothered with reading the blurb provided by Netgalley.

I mean I saw this girl holding a sword and wearing this robe of gorgeous red and I thought this book will be full of action with a girl who can kick some ass, not some damsel-in-distress who's waiting for some big, strong man to rescue her in a cliché situation. I like my female protagonists to have some backbone.

Another reason I was compelled to read this book is that its setting was in T'ang Dynasty China, which according to my graduate lessons, was China's Golden Age. I love anything that has to do with ancient China (as well as ancient Japan and in some respect, ancient Korea), I am an Asian Studies major after all.

The plot was pretty straight-forward though not fast-paced - just right. The action-scenes were pretty descriptive that I found myself imitating them using my arnis sticks (with pitiful results). And the romance - ah, the romance, was quite expected. I mean it was logical to think that if one travels with a particularly attractive (not just in looks, but in novelty - Ryam was a foreigner) member of the opposite sex who could wield weapons and kicks butt, well, wouldn't you feel a little attracted to the said being? I know, I will - well, it depends on his personality, though; if he's a total jerk then I will not hesitate to use my swords.

As I mentioned before, I admire female protagonists that have spunk and are not helpless, and I was quite happy to read that Ai Li was sword - excuse me, butterfly swords come in pairs - swords-wielding lady. And being the hasty person that I am, I only found out that she was a princess about half-way through the book since I did not read the blurb - well, I did but I forgot about it once I was through with the first chapter. So, a swords-wielding princess was way up, up my list of approval and her strong character and personality only added to it and her right sense of duty only made me admire her more. I have to hand it to her (and Jeannie Lin), 公主 (gōng zhǔ) of China had a strong sense of duty and will not likely go against the emperor's wishes. Yet Ai Li also had common sense - why would she marry someone who most likely killed her beloved brother? And that same man also might be planning to overthrow the dynasty? Yes, this princess was a breather. And did I also mention she kicks butt?

Then, there's Ryam. Unlike today, foreigners were treated as barbarians by the ancient Chinese. This had me puzzled for awhile since I can't seem to recall anything to do with blonde, blue-eyed foreigners in ancient China in any of my history classes. After pondering about it, I realized that China did a lot of trade with the West - as in the "-stans" (modern day Turkmenistan, Afghanistan) and a bit with Europe. So, that mystery was solved. Besides, China was not as closed off as was previously thought. So there. Anyway, Ryam. You know, to tell you the truth I only saw him as someone to drive the romance angle. He did save Ai Li a couple of times and was somewhat one of the reasons Ai Li was fighting. But, nevertheless, Ryam still was quite a character.

In stories like this, particularly in an ancient China setting, I would expect a lot of heartache: the emperor in disbelief of his daughter's warnings and confessions blinded by politics and power; a princess killed (either by the enemies' hands or her own) or worse separated from the love of her life and forced to marry the horrible man; and the less-than-worthy lover clapped in irons and executed for daring to lay a hand on an imperial princess.

Whew! I read no such ending in Butterfly Swords. I am fully satisfied with how Jeannie Lin handled the ending to this book - showing an emperor who loved his daughter and son, who saw beyond politics and who had more grace to accept a barbarian.

Overall, I really like this book and would recommend it to everyone and anyone who loves ancient China and the dynastic courts, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a forbidden romance, a girl who won't be dictated by the Joneses and of course, happy endings.


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