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12 February 2011 @ 10:33 pm
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin  
Publisher: Harlequin, 2010
Genre: Romance
Sub-genre: Historical
Rating: 4 pints of blood

The cover here is wonderful. I love the colours, the composition, and the fact that while this woman is gorgeous and very feminine, she is clearly not to be trifled with. Also, a woman of colour! I will be shallow and admit this cover is the sole reason I picked up the book. It's pretty and it features a woman of colour? It must be mine!

As an added bonus, the novel is set during China's Tang Dynasty era, which is a breath of fresh air as far as historical fiction (and particularly historical romance) goes.

Ai Li's parents have promised her to a man she's never met, and as a dutiful daughter, she's expected to bring honour to the family by complying. Ai Li, however, flees from the marriage when she discovers her fiancé is not an honourable man and is in fact disloyal to the Emperor and the country. She can't tie herself to such a man, nor can she believe her parents would want to align themselves with him if they knew the truth.

Running, however, presents a whole new world of problems. Li Tao, the man she's been promised to, is a very powerful warlord and wastes no time in dispatching his armies to find her and bring her back. On top of this, Ai Li has lived as a privileged young woman in her father's house and while she's very handy with her butterfly swords, she's unprepared to make her own way, especially when she's being hunted.

Fortunately, Ai Li stumbles across Ryam, a pale-skinned warrior from the far west considered by her people to be a barbarian. Barbarian or not, he's Ai Li's best chance to get back home in one piece, so she hires him to guard her.

Having just come off a disastrous mission, Ryam is reluctant to let Ai Li trust him with her safety, but he recognizes she doesn't have any other options and agrees to the deal. He can drop her off at home and continue on his way. Provided, of course, he can keep himself from noticing how attractive Ai Li is...

While Butterfly Swords is marketed as a romance, it has a strong plotline full of politics, swordfights, and family dynamics that give the book a wider audience than the standard romance. The worldbuilding is beautiful, with the sort of details that enrich the world and make it memorable without bogging the story down. The attention to the swordplay and fighting scenes makes them a particularly important element of the story, and Lin reveals a lot about their characters simply by the way they fight. In some cases, the swordfights show more than a conversation could.

It takes talent to take what could be typical romance characters and breathe life into them so they not only feel real, but unique and endearing. Ai Li is a sheltered, upper-class maiden with a tendancy for stubbornness; she's also a warrior who's trained with swords all her life and is more concerned with the honour of her marriage than the fact that she's never met the groom. Ryam is a hardened and bitter fighter with a sketchy past; he's also a wanderer with nothing to his name but his skills and his father's sword.

On the surface, a lot of the elements will be familiar to romance readers, but with enough of a twist to feel fresh and exciting. The writing is engaging, especially the eye for detail. Jeannie Lin is a storyteller to watch.

Butterfly Swords is available in mass market paperback.
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Mardelmardelwanda on February 13th, 2011 08:20 am (UTC)
This sounds so good, I want to try it out. I don't usually seek out romances either. Thanks for the review. I also love the cover.
Muse's Books: freedommuse_books on February 13th, 2011 08:46 am (UTC)
I adore this cover as well as well as stories set in historical China.
themadpokerthemadpoker on February 13th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
I love the cover on this too! I actually bought it a few months back for the same reason though I haven't gotten to reading it yet.
blackteensread2.blogspot.com on February 13th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
I thirdly (is that a word? ha) love this cover. And oooo what's a butterfly sword? best line of the review: in some scenes, a swordfight reveals more about the characters than a conversation could. Oooo, color me intrigued.

Wonderful review, I love historical fiction and it's set in a time period I know nothing about so I totally want to read it!