When I get the opportunity to read historical romance with a setting that is not the typical, I am always intrigued. China is a magical place with scope for a good, hearty story. I have read one other book by this author in the same historical time period and it was a wonderful blend of history, adventure and romance so I was eager to give this one a try.
The story begins when a thief-taker, Han, pursues his hunch that the thieves to a shipment of jade are traveling with a performing troupe. He is mesmerized when the beautiful sword dancer does her routine not just with grace, but expertise showing she is familiar with wielding the sword as a weapon. At the end of her performance, a group of impatient bounty hunters rush in to take captive the troupe. The sword dancer runs and he goes with his gut feeling and pursues her. Han is led on a merry chase that takes him through, around, over and under the small village until he catches her when another thief-taker blocks her path. He is awed by the grace and athleticism that allows her to scale walls, balance on roofs and dart through the narrow alleys like her dance. During the pursuit, she surprised him by not letting him fall off a roof when she could have used it as the opportunity to get far away. This begins his suspicion that she is no ordinary thief.
Li Feng can't believe her luck when the best thief-taker in the province captures her and brings her to a holding cell with plans to take her back to the magistrate for the jade theft- a theft that she participated in as an act to weaken the warlord it was destined for and not an act out of greed. She knew it was a mistake to get caught up in that cause when she had her own personal quest going on. With little effort, she escapes the jail and continues her pursuit to find her mother who was taken from her leaving her an orphan. Her only clue is the piece of jade her mother gave her before disappearing with a pack of armed men.
Han has never trailed someone who roused his curiosity as much as Li Feng. She acts like no normal thief or criminal he has seen. She doesn't show a hint that she was guilty of a crime- no trying to get rid of her loot, no greedy behavior, just a trail of visits to jade sellers and craftsman. He captures her again and she escapes him again. Each time, he learns a little more about his fugitive. She is trained in the warrior arts and she pursues her own quest. He used to think justice is justice- black and white, but now he begins to wonder. Li Feng is not without honor even it if is not the same as his own. Bigger things are afoot involving powerful figures in the shadows who orchestrated the event of the theft and signs of corruption that are going on. He doesn't want the small fish; he wants to bring down the whole rotten group and the sword dancer is his only lead.
Li Feng grows accustomed to the tenacious thief-taker finding her and eventually they strike a truce to start working together. She knows eventually she must get away from him because they are fundamentally different, but in the meantime she allows the attraction between them knowing it will tear out a piece of her heart when they part. Toward the end, the trail of clues leads her to unexpected truths that make her choices all the more difficult though duty to family allows for there to only be one real choice in the end. The same can be said for Han because his principles lead him to the point where he must choose justice or Li Feng now that he knows her secrets.
The plot was riveting from the first page. I loved the action sequences of Li Feng's flight to escape and Han's pursuit to capture. The mystery of the past that Li Feng cannot remember, but pieces together as she pursues one clue after another was full of intrigue and then the constant feeling of danger from people in the present worked well against the quiet moments when Li Feng and Han start up a rather unique love affair. Both characters are well aware that the feelings they have can lead to nowhere since their lives and actions have placed them on opposite sides of the law. I think that made their stolen moments of tenderness and togetherness all the more richer. They dance around each other for a while, but finally give in to their mutual passion. These two were so perfect for each other and together so I was vested to find out how the author would pull off a happily ever after for them with one being a criminal and one set to uphold the law. As the book pushed forward, it got even more and more hopeless, but that's what kept me reading.
Backdrop was descriptive and felt authentic. Social norms, clothing, class system, description of the scenes were all well done, but they were baked into the story in such a way that it was just there running along with the plot and not taking it over.
This was such a satisfying read and I recommend it to those who enjoy historical romance with some spice, some taunt action and an exotic setting.