This historical romance doubles as an adventure story about two travelers in China who fall in love, only to discover that they’re on opposite sides in a political chess game.
Thomas (The Luckiest Lady in London, 2013, etc.) returns with sword-wielding heroine Catherine Blade. After a humdrum start, the novel evolves into an engrossing and unpredictable tale of political intrigue and betrayal. The action alternates between Chinese Turkestan (the current-day Xinjiang region of China) in the 1880s and London in the 1890s. Catherine is the child of a Chinese courtesan and an Englishman. While gathering intelligence for her Chinese politician stepfather in 1883, she meets and falls in love with a man she thinks of only as “the Persian.” When their paths cross in London 8 years later, Catherine discovers that he’s not Persian at all, but a landed British gentleman named Capt. Leighton Atwood. Although he still makes her heart beat faster, he’s engaged to another woman. Catherine pretends she’s merely a gently bred lady returning to her father’s homeland, but once again, she’s on a dangerous mission for her stepfather that she can fulfill only with Leighton’s help—in spite of his allegiances to his fiancee and to the British crown. The book’s biggest weakness is the villain, Lin, a cartoonish and unconvincing opponent. Its strength is the complexity of its main characters. Catherine is graceful and feminine but also deadly with a blade or her bare hands. “We would never question your manliness, would we?” Leighton teases her. Leighton is a natural caregiver, equally comfortable cooking for Catherine and saving her from bandits.
A thought-provoking exploration of gender roles in the East and West and in the historical romance genre. It’s also a darn good read.