Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29834-1
Historical Romance, 2015
Jeannie Lin’s A Dance with Danger is linked to The Sword Dancer, in that our hero Bao Yang’s troubles began in that book. Generally, this one can stand alone quite well, I feel, but perhaps readers would get a better idea of the big picture if they read the previous book also. And the previous book is a pretty good read, especially if you like stories set in medieval China – during the Tang Dynasty days, to be more specific – and have a nice mix of action, political intrigue, and romance. This book has the same ingredients too, so chances are, if you like that book, you may like this one as well.
Just to sum things up, in the previous book, Bao Yang plotted with Magistrate Tan to assassinate General Wang Shizen, who is basically a mean SOB who also happens to be the murderer of Yang’s sister. Incidentally, Bao Yang is called “Yang” here, which stumps me at first as this is not how things are done – he should be called “Master Bao” in a formal setting or “Bao Yang” in an informal setting. I suppose the author does what she did here to make it easier for Western readers – kind of like how in Western media, Japanese names are rearranged in an order more akin to Western names. For the sake of consistency, I’d go ahead and follow suit, as much as it galls me inside to do so.
Anyway, Yang failed in his attempt, and when this story opens, he is on the run. He seeks out Magistrate Tan for assistance, and in the process compromises Magistrate Tan’s daughter Jin-mei to the point that they have to be married. Yang has no problems marrying the beautiful Jin-mei. As he puts it:
The best arrangement Yang had ever made. He had the magistrate’s protection, his silence, his daughter… Surely it couldn’t be this easy?
Of course not. A Dance with Danger basically deals with how Jin-mei will have to deal with this marriage, and, rather inconveniently, she is fond of Yang, whom she’d had a crush on for a while now. It’s inconvenient because he’s a fugitive who is not planning to give up his plan for vengeance anytime soon. Can this marriage survive all the political drama?
Jin-mei is not an action lady like the heroine of the previous book, but this does not mean that she is a passive dingbat. She is pretty sharp, and her emotions in this story feel pretty real. I never get this feeling that the author is relying too heavily on Jin-mei’s initial infatuation to be the basis of the romance. There is actually considerable character growth in both her and Yang, and as a result, the romance feels plausible and even genuine at the end of the day. The fact that the author can balance all this with all the action and intrigue is pretty impressive. Sure, things feel a bit rushed towards the end, but not to an extent that cripples the pacing or my enjoyment.
Yang is a pretty interesting hero, in that he has some degree of moral ambiguity that adds for some depths and even pathos in this story. This brings me to an issue that I also had with the previous related book, and one that may not matter at all to Western readers: the author once again mixes up traditional Chinese way of looking at things with Western one. The aspects of Yang’s quest and most of his thought processes stay faithful to a man of his time and setting: honor is very important, even over finer feelings like love, and upholding the family name is paramount. At the same time, assassinating a leader, even a cruel one, is not something that can be carried out just like that, even if it seems like the right thing to do. Doing so breaks a whole slew of personal code related to duty, loyalty, and honor; there should be considerable mental conflict in Yang’s part, of family honor versus duty and loyalty – a conflict that is never apparent here.
Likewise, Jin-mei often ponders about the “morality” of Yang’s actions, but it really isn’t about whether Yang is “good” or “bad”. Yang considers himself selfish for pursuing his path, which is odd, as it would be more selfish of him to abandon his honor and retreat from trying to redeem his family honor and name.
I know, those Chinese folks seem like a rigid and unbending lot, but that is why the history of China is riddled with crazy tyrants, power-hungry dowagers, and insane eunuchs who managed to rule for way too long for what they did.
Anyway, A Dance with Danger is an entertaining read, all things considered. It has romance, drama, and action along with ample character development as icing on the cake. Despite a part of me thinking that things could be a little more true to the setting, I still have a great time, and besides, I understand the need to make this story easier for Western people to enjoy. So, good job on the author’s part.