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Lady Ling Suyin waited in the parlour at the edge of the Snake hour, her house rendered silent except for the buzz of dragonflies outside. The tea before her had long gone cold. The last servant had brought it that morning before fleeing.
The boldest of them had begged her to join them, but the warlord who was coming for her would burn every village along the river to find her. She wouldn't add to her growing collection of debt. Another stone on the scale.
She straightened at the crunch of boots over leaves at the front of the house. They were steady and deliberate. Her heart pounded harder with each impending step. He'd come alone. Her breath caught as the imposing figure appeared in the doorway, every bit the demon they spoke of in the imperial court. Black robe, dark hair cut short, an impassive expression that revealed nothing to her. That meant she had nothing over him.
'Ling Guifei.' His voice rang deep as he greeted her by title.
'I am no one's Precious Consort any longer, Governor Li.'
Suyin remained seated and let the military governor approach. If she stood, her legs might fail her. The prominence of his features added to her fear. This was a face that could never be overlooked. All sun-darkened skin and sharp angles. A scar cut below his left eye, ruining his stark symmetry. That was new.
The first and only time she had seen Li Tao, he'd stood before the imperial court as a young man being commended for his valour. The restless energy that once had radiated from him was constrained behind a wall of discipline. Time had honed him to razor sharpness. Time had not left her untouched either.
'This humble servant is here to offer himself as the lady's escort.'
All the civility in the world could not take the edge off him.
Her stomach fluttered in warning, but she breathed through it. She propped an elbow on to the table and made her tone as light as possible. All the while, her heart pounded so hard she could barely hear her words.
'A thousand apologies, my lord, but I have no plans for travel.'
'This place is no longer safe for you.'
As if she could be safe with him. There was nowhere safe for her any longer, no allies left to protect her. Would the late Emperor's enforcer come for her after so many years? She had thought her secrets long buried.
Suyin dug her nails into the edge of the table as he stepped closer. She had been left alone to fend for herself before, but she had been young and defenceless. An accomplished courtesan should be able to command her fear. She should be able to command the man in front of her.
Li Tao halted two strides from her and she spied the silhouette of a weapon inside the drape of his sleeve. An assassin's blade. She lifted the cup and took a sip to cover her shock. Cold, bitter tea slid over her tongue. Experience allowed her to keep from trembling, but she had no control over the way her heart raced or how her palms grew damp as he loomed over her.
She managed to keep her hand steady as she set the cup down. Her next words came out in the melodic, careless tone she had perfected. 'Since my lord has come so far for this task, we should not waste any more time. Shall I gather my belongings?'
'There is nothing the lady needs.'
The warlord addressed her as if she were his superior. It wasn't much, but there had to be some way to use it. She caught the trailing edge of her shawl and draped it over her shoulders. She stood straight and paused before gliding past him.
He made no move toward her, but he was watching. All men did.
She stepped through the empty house, listening to his purposeful stride on the floorboards behind her. He was too close. By the time she emerged outside, her fingers were numb from being clenched so tight.
A palanquin awaited her by the side of the single dusty road leading from her manor. A regiment of soldiers outfitted in black and red assembled around the litter. The military governors, the jiedushi, commanded their own regional forces independent of the Emperor's army. No one challenged them within their own domains, but this stretch of the forest was clearly under imperial jurisdiction. This was an affront the Emperor would not overlook.
Li Tao followed her like a gathering storm to the sedan and the urge to flee nearly overwhelmed her. If she ran, it would only remind him that he was a hunter, a warrior, a killer. As it was, some part of him thought he was a gentleman.
'Where are we going?'
That was all he'd grant her. With a heaviness in her chest, she looked back. The August Emperor had built this home for her before his death. The manor itself meant nothing to her. Her gaze drifted to the river beyond, a rolling canvas on which the sunlight danced. She breathed deep to take in the scent of the river, of the surrounding moss and earth. This was what she would miss.
It had been too much to wish that she could be hidden away and forgotten. Perhaps she had always known someone would come for her. Debts had to be repaid in this life or the next.
She stopped before the palanquin and turned to find herself face to face with the most ruthless of the jiedushi. He was a tower of lean strength and corded muscle up close. And he was still assessing her with that penetrating gaze.
She wouldn't cower before him. The rulers of the empire devoured the weak. She waited until he came forwards to pull the curtain aside with a sweep of his arm. The tiniest of concessions.
'Tell me, Governor ' she ran a fingertip across her own cheek ' how did you get that scar?'
His eyes narrowed. 'A woman,' he said after a pause.
Her lips teased into a smile. 'Fascinating.'
His hand tightened on the curtain, the material clenched between his fingers. At once his pupils darkened, his breathing grew deep. The signs were there and she could read them like lines of poetry. How else was a woman to protect herself in the world of men? Li Tao, for all of his supposed cunning, was just another man.
'You do not disappoint,' he said in a low voice.
He dropped into the familiar form of address. The spark in his eyes showed the first hint of any heat beneath the cold exterior.
For a dark moment, she was caught in the call of his gaze. They were close, nearly touching. She had provoked him on purpose, but regretted it as an alarming awareness unfurled itself within her, prickling just beneath her skin. The regiment of soldiers surrounding them faded. There was only one man here she had any fear of.
'And here I had thought the game was over for me,' she murmured.
He didn't respond. Her shoulder brushed against his sleeve as she slipped inside the wooden transport. His black eyes remained on her as the curtain fell back across the opening.
The journey came to Suyin in fragments snatched through the window. She caught glimpses of thick vines growing over the trees, the reflection of sunlight off distant water. Li Tao rode at the front and his soldiers kept her surrounded at every moment. This must be Li Tao's infamous first battalion. They called themselves the Rising Guard and held the reputation of being the fiercest warriors in the empire.
The dense shade and the babble of her river gave way to a dirt road grooved with wheel tracks. They were going south, further away from the seat of imperial power. She no longer had a place in the new Emperor's court, but she clung to the illusion that the centre of the empire was a safe and civilised place. What lay beyond was lawless and unpredictable. That was why they had needed the jiedushi.
On the fourth day, they passed an armed barricade. Grim-faced soldiers patrolled the line and she ducked away from the window.
It was true. The regional armies were assembling. She had isolated herself from the capital city of Changan to escape from the unrest, but news had still drifted to her over the last year through her servants. They made weekly trips to the city markets while she remained shut away in her manor.
There was only one reason for a barricade in the interior of the empire. There was infighting among the military governors. They had been gaining in power for years and continued to seize control in the uncertainty of Emperor Shen's rule. Perhaps she should have gone into hiding with the servants after all.
With a shudder, she pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders. She was dressed in the same clothes she had worn when they had come for her, the only possessions Li Tao had allowed her to bring.
She hated this part. The going away. The earth element in her longed to remain grounded in one place. Travel never held good tidings. Abrupt change brought back memories of being uprooted and taken some place far and unknown. It always seemed to come to that, and she knew from experience there was never a way to return.
The survival instinct returned to her, encasing her like a second skin. She sharpened her senses and became aware of everything around her. Li Tao prepared for war with swords and soldiers. She had her own weapons.
Over the next days, the open road faded beneath the shadow of a mountain and the soil became dark and rich. They travelled into a verdant forest of bamboo. The stalks rose high overhead. They called it the bamboo sea, not for any vast stretch of water, but for the rhythmic sway of the bamboo and the rustle of the spear-tipped leaves in the breeze. The green canopy engulfed them on all sides. When she blinked away from the window, a red haze remained over her eyes, veiling the world in an unnatural glow.
Suyin peered out of the window of the sedan to search for Li Tao. He rode tall in the saddle with his back straight. His dark robe stood out against the forest green. Naturally, he became her main focal point. He had all the power and she had none.
He'd barely spoken to her except for the scant conversation they'd exchanged by the river. Why would he go beyond his barricades to take her captive? Her influence had died with the August Emperor. She was merely a relic now, faded and wrung free of any usefulness.
The caravan came to an abrupt stop and the curtain was swept aside. Once again, Li Tao stood before her. He extended his hand and she had no choice but to take it, pressing her fingers briefly over his before letting go. The fleeting warmth of the touch lingered on her skin and a disturbing awareness curled around her as she stood beside him. She knew how to identify influence and power, but had never been so recklessly drawn to it.
She redirected her attention to the mansion nestled among the towering bamboo. It was twice the size of her home and built in the same opulent style of imperial architecture. The silhouette invoked the elaborate pagodas of the palace with wooden beams and tiled rooftops. Its grand structure intruded upon the tranquil forest.
'Why am I here?'
'As I said, it was not safe for you by the river.'
Her head tilted to him in challenge. 'So the governor has appointed himself as my protector?'
His only reply was a wry twist of his lips before he gestured toward the front of the mansion. The man hoarded his words like gold coins. Every action was so controlled, she wondered if he ever lost himself in anger or passion. The last thought sent a shiver down her spine.
Li Tao remained behind her as they moved past the twin-lion statues that guarded the entrance. With every step, she became more aware of his dominance. His stride was confident and his authority complete. The illusion of deference he presented by allowing her to lead the way was laughable. How long would it be before he made his true demands known?
Household servants filed into the entrance hall one after another. Only seven of them, a small number for such a spacious compound. A grey-haired, round-faced woman headed the assembly. She gasped when Li Tao made the introduction.
'Ling GuifeiV The old woman bowed and bowed. The narrow bones of her shoulders protruded through the brown servant's robe.
'Jinmei, show Lady Ling to her apartments.' Li Tao cast a dismissive glance in Suyin's direction before turning to leave.
Insufferable. She flushed hot with anger as he disappeared down a corridor. He had treated her with the same indifference throughout the journey. She had been taken from her home under force of arms, yet he cast her aside as if she was of no importance at all. It was—it was worse than being interrogated and threatened. At least then she'd know what his plans were.
The head woman touched her arm gently. 'Come with Auntie Jinmei.'
The guards marched behind them as she led Suyin through the spacious hall.
'Guifei is more beautiful than they say,' Auntie cooed, using the revered title the August Emperor had bestowed upon Suyin. 'We are honoured and overjoyed for this visit.'
A pleasant visit indeed. Escorted by fifty armed men.
Posted October 15, 2011
Throw your expectations out the window, because this is a different kind of romance novel. Having read and loved Butterfly Swords, I expected a plucky heroine adventuring in an exotic time and place with a hero who has a heart of gold. I got something much better.
Our heroine, Suyin, was the emperor's concubine. Her weapons are beauty, poise, secrets and intrigue. Our hero is a ruthless warlord who has turned against his master more than once. These are sophisticated characters who are cynical about life and love. The result is a mature romance that tugged at my heartstrings because it wasn't the story of two people coming together for high-minded reasons, but two battered souls, two grim survivors, given a chance at redemption.
The ending of the novel seemed to change abruptly in tone, from a darker story to something lighter, trickier, and slippery. Almost dreamlike. As if it was how the characters wished it might end, instead of how it might have really happened. I'm told there are cultural reasons for this, and in truth, this novel does seem more exotic than its predecessor.
This is a beautiful book. There's a cinematic quality to the novel; I was able to visualize Dynastic China in beautiful little glimpses. If I close my eyes, I can imagine our heroine wearing her blue silk, standing between the stone guardians of her lover's fortress, hoping he will come home alive. I can vividly imagine the heroine submitting herself to her lover's ink, letting him leave his mark on her.
The love story built slowly, so that when our heroine declares that she will die without her lover, I believed her. And I was so glad she got her happy ending.
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Posted October 5, 2011
Ling Suyin is the late Emperor's consort. A woman of stunning beauty and considered the supreme seductress across the Empire. After years fighting for survival within the Imperial Court, all Suyin really wants is a quiet place away from the intrigue and treachery of the palace. And that is what her former master granted her upon his death, a nice home near the river, far away from the Imperial Court. Li Tao is a ruthless warlord, raised on the streets of Luoyong. He exemplifies the motto: he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Secure within the province he rules, Li Tao has the foresight and skill to understand the changing winds within the Empire. The Empire has fractured, war has breached the horizon, and Tao knows he will be forced to stand against Imperial forces. But for an anonymous note sent to Li Tao, Suyin would have been granted her wish. Li Tao kidnaps Suyin pulling her back into palace machinations. Tao is aware that rival Governors want the late Emperor's courtesan out of the way. Are the secrets she carries enough to warrant her execution? Tao must uncover who sent him the note about the famed courtesan, before it's too late. As the outside world begins to unravel, and Imperial forces march towards his province, Tao makes Suyin an offer. Her freedom for a night in his bed, only Tao and Suyin soon discover a night is not enough for either of them. What begins as a single night becomes a love with the power to bring down an Empire. The Dragon and The Pearl is Jeannie Lin's spectacular follow up to Butterfly Swords. The story captivated me from the moment I began reading. A titillating, refreshing read, Ms. Lin's hero had previously assumed the role of villain in Butterfly Swords. A very unique twist, changing a villain into a hero and Ms. Lin does not disappoint. Jeannie Lin's heart gripping tale set during the Tang Dynasty is one of this year's not to be missed novels. I'm already at the edge of my seat eagerly anticipating the next entry in this engaging saga.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 20, 2011
Survival instincts run strong in Ling Suyin, precious consort of the now-dead August Emperor. Impending war ends her quiet living in the home the emperor had built for her. Now she must use all the weapons she has to stay alive. She knows how expendable a beautiful woman is to men of power.
Sold at age four for one hundred copper coins, Suyin does not know her true name, but she has survived the pleasure district of Luoyang and the treacherous intrigues of the emperor's palace by using her beauty, talents, and wits. She knows the subterfuge, artfulness and secrets needed to cope with the powerful. Consequently, when she is taken from her home by the fierce young tiger warlord Li Tao, she once again puts her skills and senses on full alert. In her experience, men either want "to bed her or kill her".
Li Tao, due to an anonymous message, travels a dangerous road with his special guard unit to get Ling Suyin. Along the way they kill some of her would-be assassins. He remembers seeing her in the emperor's palace when he was chief executioner for the August Emperor Li Ming. Her beauty and her music took his breath away, but that was back then. Now he is a fearsome warlord accused of treason by the present emperor and pressured by other warlords to form alliances he does not want.
Like Suyin, he'd survived in Luoyang, but he'd survived by thievery and killing in the squalid alleys of that city. He'd been a loner: not even Lao Sou, the Old Man, the controller of assassins could fully rein him in. But Ti Lao knows the Old Man bides his time and there will still be a day of reckoning.
Political struggles give The Dragon and the Pearl a tense, suspenseful undercurrent with death seemingly only a breath away. Gao, a strong, cunning warlord, bent on having ultimate power, maneuvers to get Li Tao to help him obtain that position. While Emperor Shen uses a balance of persuasion and intimidation to hold on to power.
Suyin knows secrets that can help Li Tao if only he'd consider negotiation and compromise. But his way is direct and unyielding. He does not understand that keeping control by methods Suyin learned in court might keep him alive. His fatalistic view of how his life will play out is hard to overcome.
The unique relationship Li Tao and Ling Suyin have makes breathtaking reading at times. Their rare moments of feeling safe enough to laugh and love are precious and seem so temporary.
When Lao Sou, and "An Ying" (The Shadows) take Suyin, Li Tao is resigned to his coming death, but he fails to take into account Suyin's ability to manipulate the self-centered, vain but lonely Old Man. The twists and turns come fast and furious as the four strong powers struggle for control comes to a climax.
The betrayals and intrigues in the brief back stories as well as those in Li Tao's mansion deliver some shocks and surprises as the story unfolds.
Jeannie Lin weaves a fascinating tale about eighth century China that assails the senses and makes the heart race with danger, secrets, and amazing love-a love that strengthens rather than weakens and best of all it is forever.
Originally posted at The Long and Short of It Romance Reviews
Posted September 18, 2011
This past weekend, I was looking for a little bit of a lighter read (my husband and I took a road trip to the beach to celebrate our first anniversary) and this book certainly fit the bill!!! This is the second book about Li Tao (the first was called The Butterfly Swords). I didn't read The Butterfly Swords but I don't think you have to read it in order to enjoy The Dragon and the Pearl. This book is definitely a great stand alone book.
Suyin is alone in the world. After she falls out of favor with the monarchy, she lives on her own. Tao is a ruthless war lord looking to stake a claim in any way that he can. He takes Suyin away from her home because he thinks that she will make a good bargaining chip for him to get what he wants. Suyin is a former courtesan who is rumored to be able to make men fall in love with her with just a single look. Li Tao hardly believes that and is sure that he will be above her charm. Eh, it's a little predictable but I still loved the book and as I said, it fit the bill for a good light read.
I really liked this book. The setting is off the beaten path (China during the Tang Dynasty) and I thought that Lin did a really great job with creating the world for the reader.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a love story in an awesome locale, this is the book for you.
Posted February 24, 2013
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Posted December 21, 2011
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