The Lotus Palace (The Pingkang Li Mysteries #1)
by Jeannie Lin
4.5 stars, actually.
This book is an interesting amalgam of several different genre tropes. We have a mysterious death and a mysterious disappearance investigated by a scholar-pretending-to-be a drunk profligate and an ex-prostitute of the famed Pinkang Li pleasure quarter.
You also have a romance between a woman who’s never been shown love by anyone other than her sister and has no interest in men, and a man who is the soul of romance and love.
And there’s like a ton of cool historical details woven in, from the three day hell scholars were put through in the Tang Dynasty in order to become a government official, to the way prisoners were punished with placards around their necks, to the intricate nature of families that might include multiple wives or concubines without the usual taint of western prejudice.
I’m definitely going on to read the next in the series. Jeannie Lin deftly weaves together the three strands of romance, mystery, and historical details into a compelling story. None of the strands are given short shrift. The mystery is more complicated than you would guess. The romance includes a huge amount of development between the two characters especially because of Yue-ying’s prostitute past.
Half a star gets taken away for a slight slow/confusing bit right after the main mystery seems to be resolved and Bai Huang takes his scholar test. The pace slows down and the story seems to lose signposts for where its going for a bit, but then the test as well as the effect on the romance gets tied together with one last detail about the mystery in a satisfying way.