Shen Ai Li is the daughter of the Emperor of China, though it’s never a position either she or her father wanted. On her way to her assigned marriage, she discovers that her future husband had a hand in her brother’s death, among other things; she immediately does her best to flee despite knowing she will have brought dishonor to her family. With butterfly swords in hand, she seeks to rescue herself, but she is greatly aided by the help of a strange white man, Ryam. Realizing that this barbarian stranger is probably the only person she can trust right now, she lies to him about her identity in a bid to get him to return her to her family. Amidst the challenges of the road ahead and her betrothed’s constant attempts to get her back, Ai Li and Ryam start to feel more for each other, but such a relationship is well outside society’s expectations of them.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thrilled that a romance set outside of England or the US has managed to take hold like this one, which is set in Tang dynasty China, and the hype it’s already received is genuinely well deserved. Plus, check out that lovely Chinese girl on the cover! This is the kind of book that I want to champion, that I want to see more of. It helps that this is a thoroughly enjoyable romance. I loved that the white man was turned around and made the minority, something I think we get too little (if any) of in romance literature these days, so even though Ai Li falls in love with him fairly quickly they still have to deal with not only the stigma of his different race but the issues of honor which bind her so strongly.
Of course, I adored Ai Li, how she was equally capable of being tough and being fragile; she can fight, though she’s never had to use those skills, but she can also be very, very feminine. It’s a nice juxtaposition in a world where I think girls are often judged to be either one or the other. Ai Li is strong and honorable, particularly loyal to her family and her values, but she’s not afraid to acknowledge her love for Ryam and face the consequences of her actions.
If I did ask more of this book, I’d probably wish for it to be a bit richer in its historical detail. The setting is phenomenal and I suppose I’d just like to see more of it and have more detail. In a romance that’s less than 300 pages long, however, I think that’s probably too much to ask, and may have taken away from the main plot for some readers. I also didn’t like that Ai Li was often referred to as Ailey, which was Ryam’s version of her name, even when from her own perspective. Since I don’t know much about the Tang dynasty, I couldn’t judge this book’s historical accuracy for myself, but Jeannie Lin has a section on her website devoted to the historical accuracy in her books – which she calls historical fantasies – for which I am grateful. I rarely expect any real accuracy from historical romance, which has a tendency to plop modern day heroines in Regency settings, but I like when it’s noted!
If you enjoy romance and are looking for a change in your historicals, look no further. Butterfly Swords delivers a compelling story with wonderful characters and a thoroughly exciting setting.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review through Netgalley.