Desert Isle Keeper
Red Blossom in Snow
Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace Mysteries are back, and they continue to be satisfying, well-crafted reads. They’re best read in order, so I suggest not starting with this one; however, this review doesn’t have spoilers except for identifying previous couples.
Song Yi is the lead courtesan at the House of Heavenly Peaches. She’s known as a good musician and a companionable conversationalist rather than as a glamorous icon (like Mingyu, heroine of The Jade Temptress). In the previous book, The Hidden Moon, she encountered magistrate Li Chen, famous for being rule-abiding and his dedication to what is proper. He became a regular visitor, conversing with her for long hours he couldn’t afford. He has stopped visiting Song Yi, but he can’t stop caring about her. Then a dead body turns up outside the House of Heavenly Peaches – a man who came to the house asking to see Song Yi.
Li Chen and Song Yi are separated by class – a magistrate is distinctly above a courtesan in terms of social status. However, they are also separated by the silver price of her indenture to the House of Heavenly Peaches, by her loyalty to the women of her house (a created family), and by the authority he can’t justify bringing to bear on her behalf. Because his feelings for Song Yi are a conflict of interest, Li Chen asks another magistrate to take over the investigation; because of the same feelings, he can’t keep out of it. Both Song Yi and Li Chen know that every time she encourages him, she’s doing it as herself, but also as a professional courtesan – and as someone from a house under suspicion. Yet they both keep taking what they can get. It’s the characters’ sophisticated awareness of all of these layers that sets Red Blossom in Snow apart.
The author continues her streak of bringing back previous characters without the characterizations being obnoxious. Constable Gao, returning from The Hidden Moon, is a valuable member of Li Chen’s team, but is still the man we met before; street-connected, intimidating, working-class, illiterate. His wife, Lady Bai, helps connect Li Chen to information, but she’s incurably scholarly and frustratingly obscure in her communications. I love seeing characters return as human beings with flaws and interests instead of generically re-imagined domesticity bots.
The setting in this book is particularly well developed. We learn about the ranks of the Imperial system, traditional grieving rituals, riverboat travel, the life and precarity of less successful entertainer houses, and the examination system which allowed Li Chen to be promoted. The mystery is not the primary plot here, but I still enjoyed it. There was a point where I thought I knew what was happening, but the author surprised me.
As I said before, the Lotus Palace Mysteries are best read in order, so I don’t recommend you start here – go back and pick up The Lotus Palace. Fortunately, all of them are great reads, so if you haven’t gotten into the series yet, you can do so now with the assurance that it’s still going strong.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.