A Dance With Danger
I’ve really enjoyed previous Jeannie Lin books, but A Dance With Danger felt to me like a Tang Dynasty version of wallpaper regencies. Don’t get me wrong; I’d still take it over most other categories, and even over some longer, more detailed works. But on the whole, the book was not what I’d hoped for. While the setting was, as always, unique, it was not as detailed as I recalled from earlier works, and the plot felt rushed. I wasn’t inspired to root for the hero, and the heroine’s motivations are best described as “vague.”
The book picks up where The Sword Dancer leaves off, after a failed assassination attempt on a general named Wang. The assassin, a salt smuggler named Bao Yang, is on the run, trying to reconstruct his conspiracy for a second shot, when a flirtation with magistrate’s daughter Tan Jin-mei traps them into marriage. Jin-mei’s father, however, is not thrilled about this arrangement, a fact which becomes obvious when he tries to have Yang murdered on the wedding night. Now, Yang is on the run, with Jin-Mei determined to follow him.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure exactly whyJin-mei felt she had to follow Yang. I understood her wanting to leave her father – such dishonest and violent behavior from a man she had idolized would have been jarring, and that disappointment was clearly written. Still, she barely knew Yang. She wasn’t highly traditional and committed to the marriage, and insta-lust alone didn’t seem convincing in a medieval Chinese gentlewoman. This problem followed Jin-mei throughout the book. She wasn’t repressed enough at the beginning for the story to be a tale of blossoming, and she wasn’t unconventional enough for her behavior to be consistent. I won’t give too many details, but her behavior late in the book is equally irrational, as she charges towards and away from Yang on ill-considered whims.
As for Yang, we are repeatedly told that he is “not a warrior” but is gifted at motivating men and organizing plots. Yet he is obsessed with killing General Wang personally. I’m all about heroes who aren’t musclebound warrior types, but it is distinctly unsexy when that hero not only engineers a physical confrontation he’s not up to, but then gets his butt kicked by a man described as “complacent” and “bloated.” I want my heroes to know their own strengths and weaknesses, and not to let their egos overwhelm them into ignoring everything they know. On the whole, he was less interesting to me than the supporting thief character Liu Yuan, whose book I will definitely read if Lin writes it.
While technically, A Dance with Danger stands alone from The Sword Dancer (which I have read,) I was confused frequently during this book. I didn’t remember who the main characters were or what they had done in the previous book, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to trust their own accounts when they described what they’d done.
Lastly, I had a lot of writing problems in my advance copy which I hope will be ironed out. The heroine’s name was written as both Jin-mei and Jinmei, commas were omitted, and sentence fragments were scattered throughout the text in ways which are not justifiable as stylistic choices (“No wonder everyone was armed and ready to fight. Even Lady Daiyu and the girl Nan.”) Some writing was awkwardly modern (“There they found basically a lot of mud”) and other writing was silly (after marrying Jin-mei, Yang “could no longer spit in the face of danger.”) There were also editing issues, such as the moment when Yang’s thief ally fails to kill one marauding soldier who gets away, but later we are told that all of the soldiers were killed.
This sounds very negative, I know, but this book still reads at a fun, fast clip. It’s a road romance, and the story moves through a range of unusual settings, from a prosperous town to a river boat to a small pottery village. We learn a bit about wedding traditions, the salt smuggling trade, superstitions, and conceptions of gender roles and honor. It’s not much more detailed than the Regency fundamentals (Almack’s, Gunter’s, don’t waltz without permission, etc) that pepper wallpaper historicals, but that doesn’t ruin the book. It’s still good, but it felt like a missed opportunity for something richer.
“Good, but a missed opportunity for something richer” – that sums up the book.