Sword dancer Li Feng is used to living life on the edge of the law—a woman alone in the dangerous world of the Tang Dynasty has only her whirlwind reflexes to trust. She will discover the truth about her past, even if that means outwitting the most feared thief-catcher of them all...
Relentless, handsome and determined, Han sees life—and love—as black and white. Until he finally captures the spirited, courageous Li Feng, who makes him question everything he thought he knew about right and wrong. Soon he's faced with an impossible choice: betray the elusive sword dancer he is learning to love, or trust his long-disregarded heart and follow her to dangerous, tempting rebellion...
All right folks I've said this before, but I'll say it again because I think it bears repeating--Jeannie Lin rocks. I may be predisposed to thinking like this, given my (almost obsessive) love of Asian dramas, but more then that Lin writes historical romances that are different.
Harlequin has a formula for their books, but its not any different then other romance publishers. Man and Woman meet, they maybe get along/probably clash/have this moment of awareness, repeated situations have them growing closer, possible misunderstanding/obstacle or two and viola! They end up together. That's your basic romance plot boiled down without all the artifices of plot.
What has Lin's books standing out though (aside from the different location/time period) is that her characters often face situations that force a change of circumstance. Regardless of how much I love my wallpaper historicals very few of the couples end up in drastically changed circumstances (for both of them. I'm not counting the courtesan to lady or guttersnipe to lord tropes).
This is no less true for The Sword Dancer. Neither Li Feng nor Han are living the life of luxury at the beginning of the story, but they are living different lives from each other. Li Feng is nomadic, wandering troupe to troupe in search of a life she barely recalls and living more or less a moral grey life. Han, though also wandering, has a purpose that calls to him desperately and determinedly seeks lawful justice. This becomes an important component of their relationship as they argue over which is a fairer way of life. Li Feng's almost Robin Hood approach (stole a horse from the State, gave it to a poor farmer) or Han's strict every crime deserves a punishment (that varies based on the severity).
Han believes in the system of Law while Li Feng has seen nothing but how it can be abused.
Throughout we follow as they chase each other, coming together at various points as it suits their needs, but as each meeting seems less about capturing a criminal and more about learning the truth the ease of familiarity deepens. More than the moments of passion between the two, I found myself enjoying when Li Feng would tease Han or when Han would flirt and catch Li Feng unaware.
The underlying conspiracy and mystery surrounding the jade pendent that Li Feng had unraveled quite nicely, as did the truth surrounding the night her mother told her to run. We hear the events from two different sources--the official record as well as from a child's memory, though the truth is more in the middle.
The change of circumstance occurs about a third from the end. Han comes to it quicker than Li Feng, realizing that a black and white outlook can breed just as much corruption. From the beginning Li Feng had more at stake and as such it takes her longer to realize that bending doesn't mean breaking, and loving doesn't mean forgetting.