For those yet to try the Tang Dynasty historical romances of Jeannie Lin, this is arguably the best introduction for a couple of reasons. First, unlike most of the others: The Taming of Mei Lin, Butterfly Swords, The Dragon and the Pearl, and The Lady's Scandalous Night, it is a standalone story, not part of an ongoing series (although a short ebook sequel An Illicit Temptation tying up a last dangling plot thread has since come out). Second, as the title suggests, the basic premise greatly resembles that of My Fair Lady.
However, I hasten to add that this is NOT some Chinese set, knockoff version of My Fair Lady; rather, it adapts the basic premise: upper class man teaches lower class woman how to be a lady, to important historical events in Tang Dynasty China: "heqin" or Peace Marriages. Though not invented by Tang Dynasty rulers (similar diplomatic marriages were carried out by other Chinese dynasties and by European and other monarchies) the practice was used more during the Tang Dynasty than in any other era. Though a substantial body of writing about and by heqin brides exists in China, where these diplomatic brides have achieved a certain legendary status, most Americans who know anything about the practice arguably got it from Mulan II, Disney's surprisingly great (because most Disney straight to video tape or DVD sequels are absolutely terrible) sequel to Mulan.
Fei Long has a problem; make that a whole bunch of problems: his father's sudden death making him head of the household, his sister's disappearance on the verge of being sent to far off Khitan as a heqin bride, and a mountain of debt concealed from him by his father. When he finally catches up with his sister Pearl and her lover in a room above a teahouse, he finds that he cannot kill them. Instead he gives them all the money he has on him and tells them to go, knowing he will never see his sister again. After they leave, Fei Long spends the rest of the day sitting at a table in the teahouse brooding and pondering what to do. He needs a replacement for Pearl, someone to send to Khitan in Pearl's place, or his family will be disgraced as well as bankrupt. While musing aloud about his predicament, "I need a woman. Any woman would do. Perhaps even you.", the foundling teahouse waitress, Yan Ling, overhears, misinterprets his remarks, and dumps a pot of tea over him, which promptly gets her fired and thrown out of the teahouse. Desperately turning for help to her still damp victim, Yan Ling pleads for help while TRYING to appear apologetic,... and Fei Long starts getting that crazy idea again: teach this lower class flower girl, uh, that is teach this lower class teahouse girl, how to be a princess: how to walk like a princess, talk like a princess, read and write like a princess, dress like princess, and how to think like a princess, enough to fool the Khitans, in just a few short weeks, without anyone in the government finding out, including the nasty investigator with the ambitious streak,... (Piece of cake!)
without going crazy,... (Piece of cake?)
and without falling in love with her or letting her fall in love with him.... (Piece of....)
Jeannie Lin's specialty is piling on the obstacles to a Happily Ever After ending, and then when things are looking their bleakest, making it downright impossible,...
you will think.
As the Immovable Object stubbornly tries to educate the Irresistible Force, chaos and hilarity and an archery contest worthy of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood ensue, and you will likely find yourself remembering songs from My Fair Lady,...
especially the ones with lots of shouting.
Note: For full disclosure I received this book from the author in return for agreeing to review it.