REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s A DANCE WITH DANGER, Or An “Irrational Act For Love”

Dance_With_DangerDevoted romance readers are super-readers: reading, when LIFE permits, several books a week and in possession of TBRs stretching “to the crack of doom”. This makes the rom reader knowledgeable about romance archetypes (more familiarly known as tropes) and, as a result, possessing a vocabulary with which to talk about the genre. Rom readers are pretty awesome in the ways they understand the genre. Moreover, they are knowledgeable about their favourite rom authors’ oeuvre. They compare favourite romance narratives and an author’s books to others she’s written. All of Miss Bates’ rigmarole to say that, when she read Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress, the rom reader’s “hallelujah chorus” played at peak volume. When Miss B. saw Lin’s latest (and celebrated her return to category print), A Dance With Danger, she did the Snoopy happy dance. Reading The Jade Temptress, Miss Bates felt herself in the hands of someone who was doing wonderful things with the genre: interesting, original things, things that would linger and influence, set new bars and revive histrom’s flagging presence. Having read A Dance With Danger, Miss Bates can still say, with conviction, that Lin writes some of the best histrom on offer. Comparing A Dance With Danger to The Jade Temptress, however, leaves the former a tad in the dust.

Lin’s Dance With Danger contains everything we’ve come to expect and love about her category histroms. Set in 9th century, Tang-Dynasty China, in the province of Fujian, it features a wealthy, smooth-taking outlaw hero, Bao Yang, bent on revenge against General Wang Shizhen. Our plain-Jane heroine, Tan Jin-mei, carried a torch for Yang. Now, at 19, she encounters him in a street of her hometown, Minzhou, as he’s pursued by enemies. They walk together, thus providing him with a cover, and then are caught in a compromising position by her father’s men. As the town magistrate, there is only one recourse for Jin-mei’s father, Tan, to save the family honour: a marriage between his ally and co-conspirator against General Wang and his sole, beloved daughter. Though acquaintance is short, Lin convincingly shows us Jin-mei and Yang strike a friendship beyond their attraction. They may be marrying in haste, but won’t be repenting at leisure. As Jinmei later says to Yang, “I chose you.”

The wedding night proves a disaster: Tan and his guests ply Yang with wine. When he staggers to his bridal chamber, an assassin awaits Yang rather than Jinmei. He kills the assassin and escapes; thus, Magistrate Tan manages to save his daughter’s honour and be rid of a pest, even if he was a former ally. Jin-mei, however, is heart-broken and mourns Yang until one day she glimpses him in town. One thing we’ve realized about Jin-mei is her resourcefulness and intelligence. We are soon introduced to her resilience and determination as she finds Yang and insists on following him on his revenge-journey, abandoning her beloved father, believing him unethical and deceptive. Jin-mei feels betrayed by her father and her new husband will not prove more honest. The marriage-of-convenience awaits the working out of Yang and Jinmei’s relationship kinks and their consummation “on the road.”

A Dance With Danger combines the romance between Yang and Jin-mei with a consideration of family and community. As Yang and Jin-mei journey towards Yang’s showdown with General Wang, they work through conflicted feelings about their respective families, all the while resolving the trust issues every fledgling couple faces. Lin has characterized Yang and Jin-mei in an interesting way, as they confront questions of family loyalty and honour. Yang holds anger against the General for destroying his sister, An, a sister he gave as wife to the General to enhance the family reputation. His single-minded desire for vengeance is bound with guilt, guilt present in An’s “cold and wandering spirit”. Jin-mei, on the other hand, is an innocent, or as Yang says of her, ” … she was without guile.” Smart and brave as she is, she’s also had the protection of her father’s influence and strength to shield her. Jin-mei is a woman of integrity: when she understands how her father tried to destroy Yang, Tan is tainted. She must remain loyal to, and beside, her new husband. But she is heart-broken at losing faith in her father; here’s a beautifully poignant passage:

“What if you had been taught from birth that honesty and truth were more important than air and water? What if you had been told there was no sacrifice too great to make for the pursuit of justice? And then one day you found out everything was a lie. Could you stay and pretend that you didn’t know?”

With a shuddering breath, she tried to compose herself as the tears threatened to fall. Maybe some small part of her needed to remember what it had been like to be that trusting. To be that innocent. That warm and sheltered place could still exist in her heart, but only if she left it behind. Intact.

“We were both his puppets,” Bao Yang said soberly.

It is a beautifully rendered passage, with a succinct expression of those things that are most important to Jinmei (a true heroine who thinks) honesty, truth, and justice. She learned those things from her father and now her teacher/parent/mentor/model is not who he appeared to be. Much of the novel is taken with Jinmei’s learning to understand and forgive the flawed men in her life, her father and, yes, her husband, who will prove as secretively deceptive. She comes to understand that acting in the world exacts moral compromises, but that her father and husband, in the end, are good men who’ve done dubious things to take care of their loved ones. Jin-mei’s guilelessness to Yang’s jadedness is subtly evident in this passage, with Yang’s quietly asserted, “We were both his puppets.” Yang knows the ways of the world; however, his worldly savvy will be as nothing to Jinmei’s fierce loyalty and love; his glib tongue rendered stumbling to her penetrating ability to see into the truth of things. Because Jinmei’s journey is so compelling and important, Miss Bates felt that Yang, at least for her, never quite came together. He, like his sister, was a “wandering spirit,” at times clever, but never quite fully formed. Albeit, because Lin is such a good writer, there are some wonderful moments when Yang admits he can’t fight his enemy: wow, a less-than-super-human hero, even physically weaker than his enemies, most refreshing.

Yang and Jin-mei’s journey brings them full-circle to Magistrate Tan, General Wang, and a final showdown to avenge Yang’s sister and bring down a tyrant. Along the way, Jin-mei and Yang reunite with Yang’s remaining, estranged brother and meet sundry interesting characters, including the compelling, sympathetic assassin, Liu Yuan. They also consummate their marriage. Here Lin’s narrative wobbles in comparison to the delicious sexual tension of The Jade Temptress. A Dance With Danger is the more explicit of the two, including blindness-inducing orgasms O_o , but not half as interesting as the former. The working parts work hard and there is one beautifully rendered love-making scene in a sunshine-filled boat, but they lack the originality and heartstring-stirringness of The Jade Temptress.

Another narrative thread Miss Bates found compelling in A Dance With Danger is the responsibility good people have to condemn and destroy tyranny. Though we don’t know what torments General Wang specifically subjected the people of Fujian to, we have a glimpse during Yang and Jin-mei’s stay in the pottery-making village of Lintai. Lintai is not idyllic, but it is a good place, with hard-working, generous-hearted, and peaceful people. The townspeople gather stone, make clay, and create pottery, which is then painted beautifully by one delightful, artistic spinster, Miss Shifen, whose characterization Miss Bates loved. 😉 In Lintai, we also meet the killer, Liu Yuan, who redeemed his life in this obscure, serene town by making himself part of it. Jin-mei strikes a friendship with Miss Shifen and Yang helps the townsmen break stones for the clay. (There’s a lovely glimpse of what Yang can be when he thinks about teaching the townsmen more efficient ways of breaking the stone.) Yang and Jin-mei share laughter and companionship and forge friendships: it’s a perfect honeymoon before the realpolitik awaiting them when Yang’s determination to have his revenge sees them back on the road.

Lintai, however, is threatened by General Wang’s men, who bully and extort money from the townspeople. They eat their stores and demand more money on pain of violence. Liu and Yang can no longer stall their fighting canniness and use it to save the town. Considering these were Wang’s mercenaries, Jin-mei confesses she feels she and Yang are responsible for the town’s troubles. Shifen’s reply is telling of the meaning of community in Lintai:

“I can’t help but think – ” Jin-mei halted. Perhaps she was about to reveal too much, but it was weighing heavily on her chest since watching the soldiers ravage the village. “I can’t help but think we somehow brought this upon you.”

The village had been peaceful – the lake, the waterfall, each person with their own task within the commune. The inhabitants welcomed all visitors. Even the brutes who’d come to rob them had been fed and treated with respect first before they’d turned on their hosts.

“We’re outsiders,” Jin-mei said. “Maybe those soldiers followed us here.”

“You’re not outsiders any more,” Shifen replied firmly.  

Miss Bates thought the Lintai interlude one of the strongest in Lin’s romance. The notion of communal work, creativity, a life in, with, and of nature, and generosity, the care for the stranger and sojourner, encompasses what it means to live in community with others. When Jin-mei and Yang finally achieve their HEA, stripped of everything except each other, Miss Bates likes to think of them starting their life anew in Lintai.

It’s a joy to have Lin back writing category historicals and Miss Bates hopes this is the first of many. Miss Bates enjoyed A Dance With Danger. It lacked The Jade Temptress‘s visceral immediacy and vibrancy, but it was still a strong and lovely story. It read like a legend, like folklore, with Lin’s compelling voice leading us through the narrative. Miss Austen approves heartily of A Dance With Danger and says here is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Jeannie Lin’s A Dance With Danger is published by Harlequin. It was released on April 21st and is available for your enjoyment at your preferred vendor. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s A DANCE WITH DANGER, Or An “Irrational Act For Love”

  1. I started this in a frenzy of trying to find a book I could stick with until the end, or at least alternate with other books I was reading, expecting an experience more like The Jade Temptress or The Lotus Palace (by a smidge, my favorite of the two). I wound up stopping about 20% of the way in and will probably need to go back to the beginning and skim to the point where I stopped when I pick it up again.

    The plot and themes are appealing, but the writing wasn’t quite as smooth as I am used to from Lin and there was more conflict than I wanted to read at the time. Not a knock, as I consider her one of the best stylists in the genre (or any genre, really). I also wasted time trying to remember the book this is a sequel to – The Sword Dancer, IIRC – and to figure out how the two books relate, as I’d borrowed the previous book from the library and didn’t have it to refer to.

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    • I can’t say that it’s as good as The Jade Temptress, which I adored (BTW, good to hear about The Lotus Palace as I haven’t read it yet). I do think it’s worth reading, as any Lin is. Yes, I agree, there was too much going on; the hero was weak, Jin-Mei and many secondary characters I truly loved though. Thinking beyond what I wrote in my review, A Dance With Danger felt as if Lin had been tamed by an editor: kind of all her interesting edges smoothed away to fit a more generic sense of the category. I’m only speculating. But I agree that it wasn’t as edgy, or interesting as The Jade Temptress. I do think, however, that her ideas still come through and I could glimpse them in the writing, or scene, or character that would burst through the cracks of uniformity. So, I do hope you go back and finish it because it’s still Lin and it’s still good.

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      • Oh, I plan to finish it, but I’m mostly trying to finish the mountain of half-finished books in the order in which I started them, which puts this one close to the end. And I know other books will jump ahead of the line, such as a Cathy Pegau book I read a sample of and then purchased, in that case because it feels wasteful not to continue.

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  2. Fantastic review, MissB! I read this for my June TBR challenge and loved it. I think it is really Jin-Mei’s story; I agree that Yang is not as fully fleshed out, and I suppose I filled in the blanks from other characters of Lin’s that he resembles.

    It doesn’t rise to the heights of The Jade Temptress, I agree, but that is really a superb book (and The Lotus Palace is close behind, IMO). I think those may be a bit longer, and the characters themselves have more complex psychological and emotional backstories (they feel more mature to me). And this is an adventure book as well as a romance, so there is a lot of plot in a category-length format.

    All of which is to say that I probably forgave things that you rightfully point out, in part because I thought the “road romance” aspect was so well done, and I loved that it was set on rivers and in villages.

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    • Thank you so much! 🙂 I loved the setting as well, the river and villages, you’re right, were wonderful. Even in the first chapter, as Yang arrives in Mingzhou via the river, there’s this lovely moment when the riverman is languidly steering the boat and I felt like I was right there with them. I also, as you know from my review, really loved the entire Lantai section. Sigh. The fact is, Lin is one of the few histrom authors I can get really excited about, so I just hope we keep seeing her in print doing this category thing again and again.

      (I just realized, as you rightly pointed out, that The Jade Temptress was HQN, which would mean the length is longer, the story and characters requiring more extensive development and treatment.)

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  3. I enjoyed your review very much! My antennae always start twitching when I read an author is doing interesting original things for histrom. I have The Jade Temptress on Kindle and I’ll definitely look at my local UBS for A Dance With Danger. For some reason, the Harlequin Historical line is hard to find here, even used. Some day I shall look at Mt. TBR and that mountain of books that “stretches to the crack of doom” will be just a small hill. Or not. 🙂

    “blindness-inducing orgasms”? Gosh, I hope she gets hazard pay for that! Unfortunate descriptions like that make me long for a Betty Neels book. I think the most risqué she ever got was to have a hard-working British nurse tell her enigmatic Dutch doctor that she’s glad they’re married, implying all the bliss without a crippling loss of eyesight. At least it wasn’t sex on a camel or sentient body parts acting independently. 😉

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    • Thank you!! 🙂 Jeannie Lin is one of the best. I think you’ll enjoy her very much.

      Yup, the sex scenes were explicit, but not half as interesting as The Jade Temptress … I am NOT a fan of woo-woo-induced sex scenes, so this worked against A Dance With Danger. Keep the bedroom door barely ajar, or make it funny, or make it real.

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