Review: The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin

September 24, 2013 Books, Reading, Reviews 0 ★★★½

I’ve been yearning for a romance set someplace other than Europe or America, and particularly romances that feature main characters that aren’t your typical white people.  And so I got very excited when Ms. Lin contacted me to ask if I’d like to review The Sword Dancer.  Set in the Tang Dynasty in China, the book follows Li Feng, a thief searching for her family, and Han, a thief-catcher who finds himself questioning his loyalties as he learns more about the beautiful and graceful sword dancer he’s chasing.

It took me a while to read this book, which is partly my fault (my brain’s been reluctant to get into reading mode lately) and partly because the prose struck me as stilted at times.  There were quite a few short, choppy sentences, and it sometimes disrupted the flow of the story.  The plot also had some issues; it felt very drawn out and was on the convoluted side.  Honestly, I feel like a lot of the extraneous bits could have been chopped out to make this into a very compelling novella.  One of my biggest problems with novels is when the author relies too heavily on telling the reader things instead of showing her, and I did run across this several times in this book.

But lest you think I disliked the book, let me tell you about the great stuff!  The setting is really beautifully described, and I really love the little tidbits of everyday life in 9th century China that Ms. Lin incorporates into the story.  If you’re craving Asian romances or just a romance with a different historical setting than usual, this book definitely delivers.

The characters were also really good.  They both start out standoffish to the reader, which is an interesting choice.  But both Han and Li Feng are reserved people, though for very different reasons.  Li Feng, who uses her sword dancing skills to move around the countryside, keeps her identity and her emotions close to her chest.  She falls in with thieves in an effort to find out what happened to her family, but she doesn’t trust anyone other than herself.  Han, on the other hand, has become a thief-catcher because he couldn’t cut it with scholarship.  Instead of becoming a magistrate like his father, he channels his desire to maintain order and justice into finding bandits and bringing them in to the authorities.  He is a naturally thoughtful, reserved man, and it was very nice to see him struggle with his attraction to and growing feelings for Li Feng.

The Sword Dancer is not without problems, but the richly described setting and the characters definitely make for an enjoyable read.  I’ll definitely be tracking down the other books in the Tang Dynasty series.  (As a note, this book is the 4th in the overall series, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel.  No prior knowledge of the earlier books is needed.)