The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin-A Review and Interview with the Author
THE SWORD DANCER (Tang Dynasty #4) by Jeannie Lin
ABOUT THE BOOK: Release May 21, 2013
The Thief Who Stole His Heart
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..
REVIEW: THE SWORD DANCER is the latest release in Jeannie Lin’s series of historical romance/adventure novels set in the Tang Dynasty of China. I contacted Jeannie before reading the novel to ensure that I would not be confused or lost as the book is labeled number four, but she reassured me that each storyline is a stand-alone and the only connection is the historical period of the Tang Dynasty.
The premise focuses on sword dancer Li Feng avenging the loss of her family and Hao Han, a thief-collector whose latest target is Li Feng and the troupe of performers and dancers with whom she is travelling. As one of the most regaled thief-collectors it is Han’s duty to hunt those held responsible for crimes against the government and the people, but his latest target slowly chips away at the cold façade and heart of a man whose life revolves around crime and punishment.
The storyline follows Han and Li Feng as they play a game of cat and mouse, all the while Li Feng searching for the man/men responsible for destroying her family and her childhood. While Han wants the man brought to justice, Li Feng wants revenge and retribution. Not only does Li Feng run for her life, but for her heart as well, as she begins to fall for the man ordered to bring her in.
Throughout the story the couple will discover that the search for those responsible goes much deeper than they first suspect. The storyline is awash in political intrigue and mystery, death and loss, action and adventure, suspense, espionage and vigilante justice. And we cannot forget about the developing relationship between Han and Li Feng. There is a mutual attraction between the pair: what started out as hunter and the hunted will become one of friendship out of necessity; and lovers over time.
The world building is smooth as well as the intricate personal and cultural details of the historical Tang Dynasty. Character development is fluid as we learn the truth behind Li Feng’s life on the run, her family history and the mysterious jade pendant she holds close to her heart. Li Feng is a strong, independent woman who strives for the ultimate act of revenge. Hao Han’s decision to search for those who break the law and his decision to keep family and business separate pushes him forward but he will eventually have to face the reality that the woman he seeks to bring in is the woman who stole his heart. As a thief-catcher, he has caught the ultimate law-breaker or has the law-breaker caught Hao Han? There is a fine line between right and wrong, and only retribution for those who have loved and lost.
Jeannie Lin pulls the reader into an exotic world of sword dancers, Asian culture and the fight for political and financial control of one of the world’s precious minerals. From the street vendors and entertainers to the political back rooms where deals are made and broken, THE SWORD DANCER is a fascinating and colorful storyline with a likeable couple that I would definitely like to hear more about.
Copy supplied by the author
Reviewed by Sandy
TRC: Hi Jeannie and welcome to The Reading Café. Congratulations of the release of THE SWORD DANCER, the latest release in your historical romance series of the Tang Dynasty.
Jeannie: Hello! Thank you and thank you for having me. It always is so exciting to see a book you’ve worked on actually “hit the shelves”.
TRC: We would like to start with some background information. Would you please tell us something about yourself?
Jeannie: I’m a twin mom and a techie by profession. I’m also a former science teacher. I sneak in writing way, way early in the morning or late, late at night. Or for an hour or two during the day in between the day job.
TRC: How much influence does your own cultural background have on the storylines and premises of your novels?
Jeannie: When I was growing up, my grandmother would stay up all night knitting and watching Hong Kong TVB serials (which she also would bootleg to share with family members. I know that this is bad now and every time someone pirates my books, I feel the fat thumb of karmic retribution pressing down on me.) So I pretty much grew up watching these big costume dramas and martial arts adventures, my favorite being the ones based on the stories of mega bestselling author Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha) which were steeped in history, but interwoven with his own fantastic storytelling. I was surprised that my parents also knew about these stories. And they would talk about things that happened in the written version and not the movies. It turns out that my mother and father had also grown up with these same stories. When I played make-believe with my cousins, these were the stories we acted out. (Yes, we fought with plastic swords) This is what fed my imagination.
TRC: THE SWORD DANCER is the first storyline in your new series of The Tang Dynasty. Would you please tell us something about the premise?
Jeannie: For The Sword Dancer, I was initially inspired by a famous poem by Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu, an excerpt of which opens the book. The poem talks nostalgically about the golden era gone by. I envisioned an action/adventure tale that had all the drama and romance of the stories I loved. It would be set at the tail end of the Tang Dynasty, during the last bright spot before the fall during the rule of Emperor Xuanzong (846 – 859) During troubled times, often times bandits were romanticized, so in this story the men who enforced the law–magistrates, constables, thief-catchers–would be juxtaposed against outlaws and rebels who are pursuing their own form of justice.
TRC: How many books do you have planned for The Sword Dancer series? And will Han and Li Feng be the principle characters in the series?
Jeannie: I plan for three full length novels and several supporting novellas. The other books will feature other primary characters, but Han and Li Feng will appear again as supporting members. And…if all goes as planned…I do have a novella planned for Han and Li Feng as I was always certain their adventures would not come to an end just because they’d found one another.
TRC: If you could virtually cast The Sword Dancer, which actors or models would best represent Han and Li Feng?
Jeannie: That’s kind of tough–the picture I have in my head is not quite like anyone existing. But I was thinking of a young Michael Miu for Han. I have a crush on him from my younger days and his face can look either rugged or refined. Plus he has a great jawline…I have a weakness for those. For Li Feng, I think someone like actress Maggie Q (Nikita) would fit best. Maggie Q isn’t Chinese, so that gives her a look that’s not traditionally beautiful by Chinese standards which fits for Li Feng (though of course Maggie Q is gorgeous). Also her body type is slim and athletic and I always think of Li Feng in terms of how she moves.
TRC: How do you keep the plot unpredictable without sacrificing content, historical accuracy and believability?
Jeannie: Readers have a vision in their head that they believe to be accurate and I think that when they know very little about a period or setting, the few details they do know become more prevalent and exaggerated. Readers often challenge my stories on the basis of the belief that Chinese women in past times should be subservient or have bound feet (which wasn’t until after the Tang Dynasty and was also not for all ethnicities). All I can do as a writer is try to immerse the reader into the story so they WANT to believe my world is true.
TRC: The Lotus Palace is the September 2013 release in another new Tang Dynasty series. Would you please tell us something about the premise?
Jeannie: I’m quite excited about this series. The stories all revolve around mysteries set in the Pingkang li, also known as the North Hamlet, which was the pleasure quarter in the Tang Dynasty capital of Changan. The Pingkang li was the place where bureaucrats and scholars would mingle with talented courtesans. There was a very unique culture of literature and poetry that surrounded the quarter, but the records of it also spoke of untold dangers and deception.
TRC: Do you have plans to connect or overlap any of the Tang Dynasty series?
Jeannie: At this time, there’s no plan to intersect. The two series have very different themes and approaches, one being steeped in adventure and folklore while the other being concentrated around intrigue and mystery. The previous duet I wrote — Butterfly Swords + The Dragon and the Pearl –take place nearly a hundred years earlier.
TRC: What challenges (historical, logistical, research etc) did you face writing your novels of the Tang Dynasty?
Jeannie: I think the hardest thing has been negotiating expectations between two different genres – Asian martial arts fiction and historical romance. Readers of historical romance expect certain tropes concerning the happily ever after ending and how villains should be punished and such. It’s a constant negotiation in my head of how to make the story accessible and emotionally engaging to as many readers as possible while still retaining the core themes that I want to present.
TRC: Do you believe your portrayal of the era is accurate or do you take professional liberty with the time period?
Jeannie: The Tang Dynasty my stories are set in are most certainly “Jeannie Lin’s Tang Dynasty”. But the Venice that Shakespeare wrote in was “Shakespeare’s Venice.” Every author or artist’s recreation is inevitably unique in its interpretation–otherwise what is the purpose of putting your hands onto something? I believe this is true for historians as well — it’s a well-known practice in Chinese history, for instance, that different dynasties would commission the rewriting of the historical record. The new versions were always colored by who was in power, which philosophies and religions were dominant, and so on and so forth.
With that in mind, I use historical detail to help me elevate my story, but for me, it’s about telling an engaging story set in a historical period. It’s important for me that the story had to take place in the Tang Dynasty based on certain setting details, but it’s not my goal to “accurately” recreate the dynasty.
TRC: As an author of Chinese historical fiction, have you ever had the occasion to visit the places about which you write?
Jeannie: I’ve made one trip to China with my family, but this was actually way before I knew I’d be a writer. And China is so vast! We didn’t visit Xian (modern day Changan) where The Lotus Palace is set or Fujian province where The Sword Dancer is set. I wanted to make another trip to China to do research, but then the twins came and that plan had to be put on hold until *checks calendar* when they go to college? LOL
TRC: How thoroughly do you plan out your characters and storyline premises before you begin the first draft?
Jeannie: I usually do a loose outline, laying out each chapter. On top of that, I actually do what I call “playing the movie” in my head. I play out the scenes over and over, cutting the ones that don’t work. Unfortunately, this takes a long time for me to cull out what works and what doesn’t. Ideally I want to do this over a year, but I don’t usually have that much time.
TRC: Would you please tell us how you handle the stress and anxiety of writing deadlines and family life?
Jeannie: I think my writing buddies keep me sane. I have critique partners that I meet with in person or online and I must admit our conversations are not 100% about writing, but it helps to not feel so isolated and to have friends who can “talk you off the ledge” so to speak. The rest is just hanging on tooth and nail and hoping for the best.
TRC: Many authors bounce ideas with other authors, friends and family. With whom do you bounce ideas and why?
Jeannie: I have a core group of trusted crit partners. We’ve just spent a long time reading for each other and I trust their opinions.
TRC: What do you believe is the biggest misconception about you?
Jeannie: Hmm…I don’t know. People might assume I’m very serious because I get very philosophical and academic sometimes when I blog, but I’m actually quite funny. Really.
TRC: What are the 5 things you would like to accomplish in the next ten years?
Jeannie: Oh my. I used to have interesting things here, but now my goals are all boring like “buy a new house” and “start a college fund…make that two”.
Let me stick to writerly things:
1. Publish a series outside of historical romance
2. Start a writing based scholarship
3. Write the on-again-off-again historical fiction project I’ve been planning with my Little Sis
4. Mentor high school students in a writing program (I’ve been dreaming about this one forever, but can’t seem to find the time to start)
5. Finally take that research trip to China
TRC: On what are you currently working?
Jeanine: I’m currently working on the sequel to The Lotus Palace. There’s murder and ancient Chinese forensics and probably the most unlikely romance I’ve ever tried to tackle.
TRC: Would you like to add anything else?
Jeannie: No, this has been a great bunch of questions. I had a lot of fun answering them.
Favorite Food: Eggs Benedict
Favorite Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake
Favorite TV Show: Top Chef
Last Movie you saw: Pitch Perfect
Dark or Milk Chocolate: Dark (newly converted)
Favorite Flower: Cattelya orchid
Last Vacation Destination: Amsterdam/Brussels
TRC: Thank you Jeannie for taking the time to answer our questions. Congratulations on the release of The Sword Dancer. We hope to hear more
about Han and Li Feng.