Yue-ying is the maidservant to Mingyu, favorite courtesan at the LotusPalace and one of the celebrated Four Beauties in the PingKang Li pleasure district.  

Lord Bai Huang has the reputation of a wastrel, a bit of a fool but pleasant company.  The ever watchful Yue-ying spies something else under his façade. 

When Huilan of the House of a Hundred Songs and another of the Four Beauties is found murdered in her room during a banquet, Yue-ying’s suspicions regarding Lord Bai Huang are proven correct.  Who killed the courtesan and why is Mingyu acting so strangely?  

THE LOTUS PALACE, set during the Tang Dynasty, combines mystery and romance with the exoticism of the Far East.  It is also as restrained and formal as the culture it portrays while still managing to convey depth and the passion of conviction, justice, and love.

Yue-ying ~ personal attendant to Mingyu and former prostitute of the lowest form.  Maid servant is a step up for her.

Mingyu is an elite courtesan, mistress to Yue-ying, and one of the FOUR BEAUTIES.

The LotusPalace is Mingyu and Yue-ying’s home as well as one of the larger establishments in the pleasure quarter of the North Hamlet, also known as the Pingkang li.

Bai Huang is an aristocrat who, after an extended absence, is once again a fixture in the entertainment district. He’s failed the imperial exam more than once, is a bit of a wastrel, and is often considered a fool but one with the ability to laugh at himself.  What really lies beneath Huang’s public persona?

Huilan, one of the Four Beauties, has been killed.  Huilan had asked Huang for help.  She was afraid of something but what or whom?

Constable Wu’s is assigned to Huilan’s murder by Magistrate Li.  His deadpan countenance, not to mention his size, makes him intimidating and quite frightening; is he really as cold as he appears to be?

Exotic and elegant on the surface, Pingkang li is bound to be disturbing to modern sensibilities.  All the women were sold into this life, many as very young girls, bought from their families by procurers or kidnapped after their villages were raided and their families killed.  Sadly, these practices were both common and accepted.  However, there were much worse alternatives and, as Yue-ying says, she has made a good life there.

The murder of Huilan starts the mystery ball rolling.  The mystery itself is well conceived and executed, fitting both the time and location perfectly.

Huang believes he failed Huilan and feels honor bound to discover her killer so she can rest in peace.  The investigation into Huilan’s death, assisted by Yue-ying, gives him the needed excuse to woo Yue-ying as he has longed to all these months he’s pretended to pay suit to Mingyu.

THE LOTUS PALACE clearly defines the delineation of the classes and the formality of society overall during the Tang Dynasty.  The smallest gesture, look, or word could convey so much.  The culture is intriguing yet frustrating, especially when viewed through modern eyes.  I can’t imagine living under such strictures.

Huang’s courting of Yue-ying is challenging, to say the least.  There is the class separation, Yue-ying refuses to be a concubine yet that is all she can be.  Also, thanks to her past in the brothel Yue-ying doesn’t believe in love.    Huang is a romantic who believes in love and its ability to move mountains.  Their divergent views set the stage for a beautifully portrayed role reversal.  The conflict & contrast between Yue-ying’s thoughts and feelings for Bai Huang, their actual physicality, and intimacy isn’t something often seen but it adds piquancy, longing, and realism.  This passage depicts their differences and the chasm Huang has to bridge if he truly wants to win Yue-ying’s heart, mind, body, and soul….

“Is this what you want?” she whispered.

Yes. “No.” He took hold of her wrists. “Not only this,” he amended, since his initial answer was an obvious lie.

“I could see it in your eyes all night. This is inevitable, isn’t it? You’re a man. I’m a woman. ” There was no passion in her words. They were as cutting as a knife and they cooled his desire enough for him to regain his reason.  

“Yue-ying, I think you should be mine. You know I’m already yours.”

“That’s just bedroom talk.”

“It’s not.”

“Huang,” she admonished with a sigh.

“All right, then, it is.” His hands found their way to the small of her back. “What else is more important between Heaven and Earth than this?”

“You make the joining of bodies sound like something profound.” This said while she was straddled on top of him.

“You make it sound as if it isn’t.” For once he appreciated his scholar’s propensity for words, because Yue-ying finally fell silent. Maybe she was thinking. He closed his eyes and pulled her to him, tucking her head against his chest. Maybe she would finally stop thinking.

“I know most women would be grateful,” she said in the darkness.

“I don’t want you to be grateful,” he said harshly, then much softer, “Well, at least until I’ve done something to earn it.”

She chuckled at that. He could feel her squirming against him and he was grateful. What a wonder she was. What a challenge. There were certainly easier women to engage in affairs with, but it couldn’t be helped. He wanted Yue-ying and only her.

Huang’s patience with Yue-ying proves his love in a way nothing else could.  As much as Yue-ying confounds him he respects her and learns to understand her and her motivations.

As they draw closer to the truth behind the murders the danger increases for Huang, Yue-ying, and Mingyu.  Will solving the murder bring Huang and Yue-ying’s affair to an end?  After all, a member of the aristocracy does not marry a former prostitute and she refuses to be second to his wife.

While I did have a niggling question/doubt regarding the conclusion, not being well versed on Tang Dynasty customs I can’t rule it out so I’ll go with it.

With THE LOTUS PALACE Ms. Lin has written an engaging book that brings to life a fascinating culture and era.  Overall a satisfying read well worth your time.

4 Stars

I’m looking forward to reading the next in this series.  Have any of y’all had the pleasure of reading this yet?  Thoughts?  Agree or disagree with me?