Enjoyable Historical Romance

My Fair Concubine - Jeannie Lin

Two things about this novel caught my eye when I saw it on my Goodreads friends list feed. First, it's set during China's Tang Dynasty, around 800 AD. It's a period I have some fondness for, having imprinted as a teen on Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries set in that place and era. And to my mind far too few works of historical fiction available here in America are set outside the Anglo-American world, never mind Asia. Second, it was reviewed by a friend of that friend who is very picky. Indeed, she's notable for often being scathingly, often hilariously, acerbic in her reviews. So when she gave this book five stars my eyebrow went way up and I hunted this down.

I don't rate this as highly no. I did very much like the way Lin evoked the place and time, at least in terms of physical details. I don't know though that the culture felt foreign <i>enough</i> though given the distance we're traveling to a China of the eighth century in the way of the best historical fiction I've read. It doesn't for me distinguish itself in style, which is not elegant, even if readable, in characters, which are likable but not to my mind distinctive enough to linger in my mind, and I found the plot predictable--I saw the resolution coming miles away. There were no passages that evoked writer's envy or tempted me to mark pages. Compare that to Crusie's <i>Bet Me</i>, the prize among books I've read in the romance category, with lots of elements and lines that linger in memory, which made me laugh and made me cry: <i>that</i> I rated five stars.

Mind you, given this is a Harlequin Romance imprint, never mind genre romance, I'm tempted to give <i>My Fair Concubine</i> five stars, because grading on a curve, this would be one of the best books I've read in the genre. I'm a sap that relishes a good love story, but it's rare that I've ever found anything in the romance aisle that I haven't found gag-worthy. And because I think there are good stories in every genre and I <i>do</i> enjoy love stories--the ones I love generally being found in other areas of the store--I have tried, going through more than one romance recommendation list. Other than Jennifer Crusie, I have yet to read a living romance author I'd be tempted to read a second time. Given the too-many-books, too-little time principle, I'm not sure Lin is another exception, which is why four stars feels too generous, if three stars given how much I enjoyed it a bit stingy.

But I did tear through the story and I did enjoy the ride. So if you think you'd enjoy a solidly written romance set in a far off time and place, yes, I'd recommend this novel.