Review: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Format: Mass Market
Publisher: Harlequin
Pub Date: October 2010
FTC: Digital galley from Netgalley

It's a rare thing to have a historical romance that's not set in the American West or in Regency England these days. So in that respect, Butterfly Swords is a breath of fresh air. Set in China during the Tang Dynasty, the book tells the story of  Princess Ai Li and a barbarian foreigner named Ryam. 

I've read a fair amount of Asian literature, and the beauty and simplicity of the prose always amazes me. Jeannie Lin's writing is deceptively simple but manages to effortlessly evoke an Asian atmosphere. Her knowledge of Chinese culture shines through, and everything Ai Li does feels authentic to both the period and her culture.

But... (you knew this was coming) I did not feel the same way about our hero, Ryam.

One aspect of the story constantly bothered me—often enough to throw me out of the story. The author makes it a point to say (repeatedly) how different Ryam looks. But fails to tell us where he's from. Although the story takes place smack in the middle of the Silk Road trading routes, and it wouldn't be uncommon for foreigners to be there, it strains my suspension of disbelief that people wouldn't know where he was from or what his ethnicity was. Why the coyness? Why not just pick a nationality and stick to it? It's a secret not only from everyone he meets, but from everyone who knows him, too.  I found that indicative of the weakness of his character overall. He was a tall, muscular blond guy who fought well. Without a history, personality or culture to draw from, he's about as complex as an animated cardboard cutout.

I loved the fight scenes in this book. Especially those with Ai Li and her butterfly swords. I loved that she was strong, capable, and mature for her age. But that was not enough to overcome what felt like an utter lack of chemistry between Ryam and Ai Li. Perhaps if Ryam's character were not so sketchily drawn, I would have felt more involved in the story. As it was, this felt more like a book about political intrigue and less about the relationship between our hero and heroine.

My Grade: C+/B-

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