I'm a Georgette Heyer fan from way back. You can tell this by the fact that I use the word Odious in my everyday speech. I also read Roberta Gellis and quite a few 'bodice rippers' in my teens. I also love Ellis Peters Cadfael mysteries with those sweet little romances in each one.
This is my first Jeannie Lin historical and a great introduction to a very different era and culture. The setting of the Tang Dynasty in 800AD is beautifully rendered in a simple and unobtrusive manner. The heroine Yan Ling is the lowest of the low, a foundling working in a tea-house where Fei Long is seeking his runaway sister. When he realises Pearl's flight is to some extent his fault, having ignored her early pleas for help, Fei Long lets her go with her lover.
A combination of his absorption in his problem and Yan Ling's fiery temper results in the tea-house girl being cut loose and a man in need of a Princess to save his family honour is not too proud to pick up a stray servant to train her to take his sister's place as a treaty bride with a far off kingdom.
Of course in a romance it never works out quite so easily. Yan Ling is so much more than a mere servant and as he gets to know her, Fei Long finds that what she is inside becomes more important to him than what she can do for his family honour.
Yan Ling is intrigued from the start by this rather cool, controlled former soldier. As he teaches her the skills she needs, her feelings start to go astray. She finds herself not as practical as Fei Long insists.
Ms Lin introduces an interesting cast of characters, in particular the servant girl Dao, and the theatrical artist, Bai Shen who takes on training Yan Ling in the art of womanhood. A nice touch of irony from a male actor.
The romance between Yan Ling and Fei Long fairly sizzles even though we don't see any intimacy through most of the book. Yan Ling is the perfect foil for the buttoned up Fei Long, encouraging him to look beyond the rules and regulations and see Honour and Duty as tied up with the Heart rather than appearance and social acceptance.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and even though the solution to the problem was fairly clear only halfway through the story, the culmination of the story was very satisfying. Ms Lin has a nice strain of humour that runs through the book and the ending leaves you with a smile from the humour as well as the romance.