The desire of an emperor… Bored with his usual palace musicians, the emperor Liu Che is tempted by a new song from lowly qin-player Li Yan Nian. Yan Nian is also beautiful, and Liu Che is in the mood to take a new lover. His lovers usually come to him, but Yan Nian’s shy reticence intrigues the emperor.
The yearning of a man… Yan Nian has been in love with the emperor since he entered the palace. Regardless of his heart, he made a promise on his father’s deathbed to use his musical skills to bring his beloved younger sister to the emperor’s attention. However, Lady Li has no intention of becoming an imperial concubine.
The danger of love… An attack at a victory celebration heralds an attempt on the emperor’s life, and desire and yearning collide when it’s revealed there may be no way to protect all the hearts threatened by a plot to overthrow the state.
Review by Erastes
The author herself calls this book a “fluffy version” of the true-life affair between Lui Che, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty of China and Li Yan Nian a court musician in the Emperor’s court. But I wouldn’t call it fluffy, as such. Perhaps it is a little rose-tinted, but there’s no way this could be labelled as “wallpaper” because of the solidity of the world painted around the characters and the obvious depth of knowledge that the author has. If you dig a little deeper into the “what happened to these characters in real life” then the happy ever after loses some of its gloss it has to be said.
It’s a shame, really, that this is almost a throwaway novella with a sharply erotic focus because Lui Che was a hugely fascinating man–and the way he shaped the Empire around him would be more than enough material for many, many books — and has been.
But what this book does–as an erotic novella–it does exquisitely well, and exquisite is a good word here, because the careful elegance of Chinese courtly life is described so beautifully that you can see every graceful movement of the courtiers, hear the swish of silk and brocaded satin as it sweeps along nightingale floors, and even smell the weight of history.
I don’t doubt the a man as powerful as Lui Che was could have had any man or woman in the kingdom, so his manner of “seduction” strikes true (that being said, it stretched my credulity a tad that he’d bother to go to Nian’s room in the musical quarter to have sex with him) and the interplay between them, particularly in the first sex scene is as taut as a guitar string and quite lovely. There’s some whipping, and even though it’s not my thing, I admit it’s gorgeously done, and you really get a sense that–as with the time period–Cotoner knows exactly what she’s doing and how to describe this play.
It’s a hard balance to do quite such an erotic novella of this length and still include enough plot and characterisation to keep you enthralled from beginning to end, but this manages it very well. Highly enjoyable. I hope that the author does a more detailed book in future of this era because I’d love to know more about it.
The cover deserves a special mention and is certainly one of my favourites this year. It really looks like it could have been done in the era concerned.
Interested in China and same sex relationships? Then read Kate’s article on The Macaronis.
Buy at Dreamspinner Press