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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin

The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (280 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Camellia

Former Emperor's consort Ling Suyin is renowned for her beauty; the ultimate seductress. Now she lives quietly alone—until the most ruthless warlord in the region comes and steals her away….

Li Tao lives life by the sword, and is trapped in the treacherous, lethal world of politics. The alluring Ling Suyin is at the center of the web. He must uncover her mystery without falling under her spell—yet her innocence calls out to him. How cruel if she, of all women, can entrance the man behind the legend….

Survival instincts run strong in Ling Suyin, precious consort of the now-dead August Emperor. Impending war ends her quiet living in the home the emperor had built for her. Now she must use all the weapons she has to stay alive. She knows how expendable a beautiful woman is to men of power.

Sold at age four for one hundred copper coins, Suyin does not know her true name, but she has survived the pleasure district of Luoyang and the treacherous intrigues of the emperor’s palace by using her beauty, talents, and wits. She knows the subterfuge, artfulness and secrets needed to cope with the powerful. Consequently, when she is taken from her home by the fierce young tiger warlord Li Tao, she once again puts her skills and senses on full alert. In her experience, men either want “to bed her or kill her”.

Li Tao, due to an anonymous message, travels a dangerous road with his special guard unit to get Ling Suyin. Along the way they kill some of her would-be assassins. He remembers seeing her in the emperor’s palace when he was chief executioner for the August Emperor Li Ming. Her beauty and her music took his breath away, but that was back then. Now he is a fearsome warlord accused of treason by the present emperor and pressured by other warlords to form alliances he does not want.

Like Suyin, he’d survived in Luoyang, but he’d survived by thievery and killing in the squalid alleys of that city. He’d been a loner: not even Lao Sou, the Old Man, the controller of assassins could fully rein him in. But Ti Lao knows the Old Man bides his time and there will still be a day of reckoning.

Political struggles give The Dragon and the Pearl a tense, suspenseful undercurrent with death seemingly only a breath away. Gao, a strong, cunning warlord, bent on having ultimate power, maneuvers to get Li Tao to help him obtain that position. While Emperor Shen uses a balance of persuasion and intimidation to hold on to power.

Suyin knows secrets that can help Li Tao if only he’d consider negotiation and compromise. But his way is direct and unyielding. He does not understand that keeping control by methods Suyin learned in court might keep him alive. His fatalistic view of how his life will play out is hard to overcome.

The unique relationship Li Tao and Ling Suyin have makes breathtaking reading at times. Their rare moments of feeling safe enough to laugh and love are precious and seem so temporary.

When Lao Sou, and “An Ying” (The Shadows) take Suyin, Li Tao is resigned to his coming death, but he fails to take into account Suyin’s ability to manipulate the self-centered, vain but lonely Old Man. The twists and turns come fast and furious as the four strong powers struggle for control comes to a climax.

The betrayals and intrigues in the brief back stories as well as those in Li Tao’s mansion deliver some shocks and surprises as the story unfolds.

Jeannie Lin weaves a fascinating tale about eighth century China that assails the senses and makes the heart race with danger, secrets, and amazing love—a love that strengthens rather than weakens and best of all it is forever.