Desert Isle Keeper
To be honest, I had my doubts about this story. I didn’t really know if Harlequin could pull off a historical novel set in a foreign nation. (I don’t think of Regency England as a foreign nation. Guess it has become such familiar territory I consider it home.) But I was intrigued enough by the advertisements I saw here at AAR to purchase the novel and I can tell you emphatically that they did indeed pull it off. Perfectly. Don’t let the short length fool you. This is a wonderful, complex tale full of solid writing, wonderful characters and the wonders of life in a foreign land during a long ago time.
When Ai Li’s marriage caravan is attacked, she reaches immediately for the butterfly swords she had placed behind the padded cushions of her seat. She had brought them to her wedding, “needing some reminder of home, the way another girl might find comfort in her childhood doll”. But her swords are no toy, and she is well skilled in the use of them. Had this been an ordinary battle, she would have proven to be no ordinary princess. Instead, this is a ruse, arranged to help her flee a wedding Ai Li feels will ultimately bring dishonor and destruction to her family. Then she is betrayed by the very people she trusts to get her home. Her battle against them is valiant, but ultimately would have been lost if not for the help of the yellow haired, blue eyed foreign devil. He is an extraordinary swordsman and could easily provide all the protection she needs for the journey home. Can she trust this reluctant rescuer with her life? And more importantly, her honor?
Ryam is not only far from home, he is tired, defeated and worried. He had been trusted with a mission that he feels he failed. Now walking the long distance back to Yumen Guan, he is alone, tired and hungry. When the woman in boy’s clothing offers him her meal, he is deeply grateful. Little does he realize that he will quickly have the opportunity to repay his debt. As he and Ai Li make their way across hostile territory he easily becomes enamored of this beautiful, honorable girl. But what can he, a barbarian, offer to one such as she? And how can they ever be together when she is promised to another?
I will admit right off that I know nothing of Chinese history that I have not learned from films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of a Flying Daggers. So I can’t attest to the accuracy of the historical content nor how the characters’ behavior fits into their time period. I can attest to the fact that the author gives the book an authentic flavor; I could picture everything happening quite clearly and certainly it fit into the image I have of historical China.
I liked Ai Li, who reminded me a bit of Jen from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Ai Li was a very obedient, dutiful daughter but she is also willful and intrigued by a life beyond that which she has been raised for. Her sword training is important to her, as is her honor, and you can’t help but think what a fantastic warrior this girl would make. There is also a sweetness and wholesomeness to her that make her very endearing. Her struggle to be respected in spite of her youth and her determination to do the right thing make her a very admirable character.
Ryam is a bit of a traditional western hero. He loves how Ai Li is close to her family and considers them in all her decisions, but can’t help feel a sense of confusion about it. He himself has no good memory of family and has been a loner for so long he barely values the friendships he does have. He wants Ai Li almost from the first moment he sees her, but tries hard to live up to the standards of honor she holds so dear, refraining from taking advantage of her inexperience to launch a well practiced seduction. I liked Ryam, liked his history – but grew a bit tired of the “I failed my mission” beating he gave himself.
I liked these two as a couple. There was no sudden “curiosity” on Ai Li’s part, no roguishness on his to explain away dangerous behavior caused by instant chemistry. Instead, the two fought their attraction, thought through their options, and acted on their passions only after a slow, subtle build up. It made it so much more real and meaningful to have it happen like this.
If you are looking for a rich, radiant story slightly different than your standard fare, look no further. This is an epic tale of princesses and warriors, foreigners in exotic lands, and honor and chivalry. A wonderful tale that leaves one hungering for more by this author.