Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.
I’ve been meaning to read this author ever since hearing great things about her previous book, Butterfly Swords, so when I saw this book on Netgalley I jumped to the opportunity to read it. I wasn’t aware that The Dragon and the Pearl was a sequel to Butterfly Swords but I was able to enjoy the book and I think it stands alone quite well.
Lady Ling Suyin is in deep trouble. As the late Emperor’s consort she finds herself kidnaped from her home by Governor Li Tao. Without the protection of the new Emperor and with the country in a political upheaval and on the verge of a civil war, she doesn’t know what to make of this latest development so she ends up going with him as his prisoner.
Li Tao has some decisions to make. Loyal to the last Emperor he needs to figure out if he should pledge allegiance to the new Emperor, a man who doesn’t really trusts him, and risk going to war against some powerful warlords, or align himself with the warlords and declare war to the Empire. In the middle of all this he gets saddled with the beautiful Suyin because he believes she may have a secret that could give him the upper hand in the impending war, but he doesn’t really know what to do with her or with the smoldering attraction between them.
If I had to describe this book using just one word I would say exotic. I have never read a historical romance set in China, nor have I ever read a historical romance set in the 8th century. So I had no idea what I was getting into. What I encounter was a rich and complex world quite different from what I’m used to. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a fantasy because it had an almost magical feel to it.
There are a lot of things going on in the book because the story takes place during a very politically unstable period, but we never see any action, instead, we are left exploring the developing relationship between these two individuals who are brought together by a series of events that were set in motions years ago. This is a love story first and foremost, and even though there’s a feel of impending doom, the romance is sweet, engaging and very emotional.
Suyin was a great heroine. Shrewd is a very good way to describe her. Life as an imperial courtesan is not an easy one, especially if you are favored by the Emperor. She knew politics and how to manipulate and use the effect she had on men to her advantage. But she was also lonely and resigned to live the rest of her life without love. She is afraid of Tao but also fascinated by him, she can see beyond the stoic façade and is very attracted to what she discovers. Once she realizes she loves him she will do anything for him.
Tao is one of those silent and brooding heroes, but taken to the extreme. These were his personality traits, this is not someone harboring a secret pain unable to express his feelings waiting for the right woman to finally open up, so don’t expect him to change much. He was strong and bad with words, direct and passionate. I found him to be quite complex and very lonely, just like Suyin. This was a pairing that made perfect sense and you could feel the desire between them which is why the sex scenes were scorching hot but not graphic.
My favorite parts of the book were the flashbacks. I’m glad they were there because the leads were never going to share their painful past with each other. So we get little snippets into their lives through flashbacks that give us an inside look into the characters and a better understanding of the person they became.
My problem with the book was the ending. I feel like the book ended on an uncertain note. Things were never really resolved and the final confrontation was anticlimactic. I just don’t buy it, maybe there will be a sequel but I don’t think so. There is a happy ending to the love story, but to their lives? I don’t think so. It goes well with the overall tone of the book, but it left me hanging and when I finish a book I don’t want to worry about the characters’ well-being.
I think that romance fans would love this book. The setting is beautiful and the love story engaging. I want to read Butterfly Swords to see Tao under a different perspective since he is the villain in that story and I wish I had read that one first, so if you decide to read this one consider getting the first book as well.
Review by Brie
Former Emperor's consort Ling Suyin is renowned for her beauty; the ultimate seductress. Now she lives quietly alone—until the most ruthless warlord in the region comes and steals her away....Li Tao lives life by the sword, and is trapped in the treacherous, lethal world of politics. The alluring Ling Suyin is at the center of the web. He must uncover her mystery without falling under her spell—yet her innocence calls out to him. How cruel if she, of all women, can entrance the man behind the legend....
Harlequin. September 20, 2011.