Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pink Heart Picks - Butterfly Swords

Welcome back to the Pink Heart Picks Book Club!  This month we read Jeannie Lin's debut Harlequin Historical, BUTTERFLY SWORDS. I met Jeannie in Washington DC just after she got the call - she won the Golden Heart with this book as well and her acceptance speech was so lovely. When I thought about what book I wanted to read to represent HH, I knew this was the one. I love reading historicals, but this one is different - it's a debut and it's set in China - something that hasn't been done before.

How does it feel to be a trailblazer, Jeannie?

Since then Jeannie has sold a Historical Undone and the follow up to Butterfly Swords, and another debut author has a Chinese-set Undone. I think that's very cool.

SO, buckle up as we talk about the book!

Maybe it was my frame of mind when I started reading but I wasn't quite as gripped as I expected. I think I felt that there was a certain amount of set up and action going on, but it didn't take long for that to change. You know what sticks out for me with this book? Pacing. The pacing was really well done. There was a lot of traveling - really this was one big old road trip for Ai Li and Rayam - but because of the changing situation and locations it didn't feel monotonous. In fact, each leg of the trip worked like a road map to the emotional conflict and romantic development as well as advancing the stakes in the plot - really great crafting IMO. And even though we reach a point where Ai Li and Rayam know they love each other, a happy ending is still very far away and I'm reading along trying to figure out how it's all going to work out and I HAVEN'T A CLUE.

You know what else was well paced? The sensuality and sexual relationship. And her descriptions were beautiful. Even in hard battle scenes or the heat of sex, Lin's writing is graceful. If you look at the components of the story, they seem very typically plotted. But the writing is individual and fresh and smooth so that you don't mind at all. I liked that.

I did have a few thoughts about the ending. It felt a little rushed. I would have liked to have understood exactly why her father acted as he did, and more about why he suddenly seemed to change his mind.  And I would have liked for her to have had her swords at the end. They play such a pivotal role throughout. In Rayam's final battle, when he realizes how he should be fighting, I really wanted a mention of the touch reflex thing. The scene in the beginning where she blindfolds him to demonstrate touch reflex in battle is beautiful. Then it's repeated when they  first make love - a lovely way to explain their reactions to each other that stood out as particularly well crafted. It was nearly there in the ending and just needed more of an overt reference.

There are moments of levity, too, and my favourite humorous part was when Ryam and Ai Li's brother Huang are drinking. Huang says "She chose you. You can't be so bad. Do you know there is a tradition of lucky devils in our family? Our grandfather won himself the most beautiful bride in the province. And he was nearly as ugly as you are." I laughed out loud! There is some wonderful word play between the characters and an awareness in the differences of language without it being awkward or clunky.  There were so many things that Jeannie did well in the construction of this book! And the true test - the more I think about it, the more I like it. It's a book with resonance.

This is a lovely story in an unusual setting with a fantastic balance of suspense, action, and romance. If you haven't read it, you should!

So on to next month's pick!

We continue on with our exploration of Harlequin lines with a Kimani Romance, PLEASURE FOR TWO by Pamela Yaye! I hope you'll come back and join us on November 30 to chat about the book and see what our final pick of the year is!


  1. I'm only at p48 (it's been a busy month!) so I'm still getting into the book. I agree with Donna - so far I'm finding it not quite as gripping as I expected.
    What I find fascinating is that so far there really hasn't been a huge amount of detail/description about the world they are in - it's mostly about the interaction of the two. I'm dying to find out where Ryam comes from and how he ended up in China, of all places!
    I'm still confused about the butterfly swords. When I heard the title, ages ago, I imagined (having nothing else to go on) that you would hold a sword in each hand and they would generally be moved together, if not as a mirror reflection. At one point, when Ai Li is using them, there is a reference to this. But the cover shows her holding only one sword (although, confusingly, the gap between her side and her sleeve looked for a moment like another sword). So I'm still a bit confused about the technique!

  2. The pacing picks up and so does the intensity, Alison. I found that once I got past that first chunk, it really built nicely.

    And I think because of the complexity of the situation, the fact that Ryam is so DIFFERENT from Ai Li, in addition to being strangers...that's why it takes a while to get "established". Once Ai Li realizes she can trust him, it really takes off.

  3. Thanks to the PHS for selecting Butterfly Swords!

    How does it feel to be a trailblazer? I'm a nervous wreck, over-thinking everything, and on a constant emotional buzz for the last month. But I think that's true of any author's debut, right? :-)

  4. Don't be a nervous wreck! It's a wonderful story and a fab debut. Enjoy every moment!

  5. Kaelee says:

    Hi! I am only about 100 pages into the story, but I am enjoying it very much. I really liked the part where Ryam is catching the fish by hand.

    I know very little about Chinese history but I am finding it fascinating. I will have to read up a bit about it. Thank you for bringing a new location for an historical to us. Lucy Gordon brought us a bit of modern China last year in her Escape Around the World HR (And the Bride Wore Red.I found it very interesting that the bride is in red in this story as well. At least I am assuming that as Ai Li said she had a red veil over her head and couldn't see her groom to be.

    I will come back when I've finished the book and tell you how I liked it. From reading Donna's review I think I shall enjoy the rest of the book

  6. Finished it now, and I would agree the ending seemed rushed and frankly unlikely. We never really learn why Father decided to do a 180-degree turnaround. Is he not going to marry Miya now? Would she have him? - she's married to ADrian now, whatever marriage meant then (what kind of ceremony did they go through? How does 8thc Chinese marriage differ from ours?) Did Grandmother have anything to do with it? - I thought she'd reappear at the end but she didn't. etc. So many questions!