I have read two previous works by Lin and having enjoyed them, I remained on the lookout for more work. The premise for this one instantly piqued my interest: "My Fair Lady" reworked to historical China? Yes, please! I have a soft spot* for "My Fair Lady" that is only marred by my intense loathing of Rex Harrison (read about him-he's a jerk!) But this book would have no Harrison, just using the Pygmalion story. I could not wait to pick it up!
And I found this to be even better than I was expecting! That would be mostly because of the characters. The main characters are very concerned with honor and with doing the right thing even when it conflicts with their own personal wants. The tension of them wanting each other but thinking it's the wrong thing kept me glued to the pages.
The book actually opens with hero Fei Long barging in on his sister, who I originally thought had been stolen and sold into prostitution. Nothing quite so dire-instead she ran away with her lover to avoid her fate of being sent out of the country as a princess bride in order to make an alliance for China. The siblings had been close so Fei Long does allow her to leave despite the dishonor it will bring on their family, which weighs heavily upon him in the aftermath of their father's demise and crippling debts. To ponder his quandary, Fei Long orders tea and sits there for hours.
Yan Ling has no family and has been very fortunate to be given a servant position in the local teahouse. Without that job, she has nothing. So when she tosses tea at Fei Long after an arrogant comment, she is in big trouble. She begs him to help her and he realizes that she might prove useful in taking the place of his sister as a bride. First though she must undergo thorough training in manners, speaking, writing, posture, etc. and all in only a few short months. But as the two spend time together, sparks start to fly, complicating their already complicated position.
I really don't think I can say enough about how much I enjoyed the slow burn of their romance. Neither particularly likes the other at first and they continually butt heads. It's just that the more time they spend together, the more they fall but the more impossible it all seems. Fei Long must maintain his family's honor including getting them out of the crippling debt his father led them into. He has servants who have served them for generations and he is also responsible for them. Meanwhile Yan Ling recognizes his situation and wants to uphold her promise of going while really all she wants to do is stay. For the most part, they don't touch and they stay away but nothing can dull the passion they feel.
Overall: I just adored this book-it was SO good, combining romance, history, amazing descriptions of food, some action, and some suspense all with strong characters and excellent writing. Highly recommended!
Cover: Um, he's kind of hot! I'm trying not to stare at him right now but I kind of want to; I am definitely putting myself in Yan Ling's shoes right now.
*edited from "sport" to "spot" on 10JUN12