Authors: Jeannie Lin
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China…
Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties.
Street-smart and practical, she’s content to live in the
shadow of her infamous mistress—until she meets the
aristocratic playboy Bai Huang.
Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely
imagine, let alone share, but as they are thrown together
in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to
dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang’s position means
that all she could ever be to him is his concubine—
will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart?
Praise for Jeannie Lin
“Lin combines wit, seduction, skill and intelligence
in a tantalizing take on
My Fair Lady.
My Fair Concubine
“Lin has a gift for bringing the wondrous and colorful world of ancient China to readers.…
Those yearning for new worlds and age-old adventures will savor Lin’s novel.”
RT Book Reviews
My Fair Concubine
“Drawing on a lushly depicted, exotic backdrop, Lin creates an intriguing romance between well-drawn characters whose secrets lure readers deep into the story.”
RT Book Reviews
The Dragon and the Pearl
“Beautifully written, deliciously sensual, and rich with Tang Dynasty historical and political detail…exquisitely crafted, danger-filled, and intriguing… Exceptional.”
Library Journal, Romance Reviews
The Dragon and the Pearl
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
A Knight’s Tale,
you’d have the power and romance
of Lin’s dynamic debut.”
RT Book Reviews
“Exciting debut…especially vibrant writing…”
starred review, on
“If you are looking for a rich, radiant story slightly different than your standard fare, look no further.… A wonderful tale that leaves one
hungering for more by this author.”
All About Romance
“Desert Isle Keeper” review
“Lush history, heartbreaking romance, fascinating mystery, and a happy ending!
What more can anyone ask?”
New York Times
“Jeannie Lin has done it again. With
The Lotus Palace,
Lin has gifted us with a heartfelt tale of forbidden love between an unlikely heroine and a hidden hero. I loved every minute I spent immersed in the glistening world Lin creates for her star-crossed lovers in Tang Dynasty China. Her writing shimmers with the sights, sounds and rituals of medieval China, while her characters completely captured my heart.
The Lotus Palace
is a poignant love story to treasure.”
—Elizabeth Essex, award-winning author
Scandal in the Night
I first fell in love with the colorful culture of the infamous Pingkang li, also known as the North Hamlet, while writing the novella
Capturing the Silken Thief.
This entertainment district has a unique place in history, bringing about a literary culture that revolved around the specially trained women who served as companions, hostesses and fellow poets to the scholars and officials who frequented the quarter for business and pleasure. To simply call them “prostitutes” would be incorrect. To call them “courtesans” seems insufficient. The Western world occasionally refers to them as “Chinese geisha,” a term that ignores the fact that China developed a rich and distinctive courtesan culture that predated the geisha culture in Japan. Chinese scholars have written numerous lines of poetry attempting to capture the complicated and multilayered nature of these clever, talented, elegant and fiery women.
At the same time, the Pingkang li was a place of contradictions. While scholar-gentlemen professed to be enthralled by the courtesans, ultimately these women were slaves. Despite their elevated status and illusion of independence, they were bought and sold as commodities.
The Lotus Palace
explores the juxtaposition of this intricate social dance and the art of love versus the challenges of finding true romantic fulfillment. There is a reason so many classic Chinese love stories end in tragedy!
The Pingkang li, with its dual persona of sensual decadence and refinement, became the perfect place for me to explore the many roles that women took on in society, to investigate a murder most foul and to find true love.
To find out more about the drama and romance of ancient China, you can find me online at
. I love hearing from readers!
The Lotus Palace
would not have been possible without the help and guidance of Bria Quinlan, Inez Kelley and Kate Pearce, who are generous friends and talented authors.
As always, a special thanks to my editor, Anna Boatman, for always pushing me to make the romance deeper and more fulfilling. And to my agent, Gail Fortune.
I never thought we’d get this far, but she has always believed.
Tang Dynasty China, 847 AD
threw Yue-ying from her pallet. The entire building shook around her and the rafters groaned until she was certain the Lotus Palace was going to be torn apart. Too startled to move, she crouched low with her hands over her head. They were all going to die.
Suddenly the shaking stopped. With her heart thudding against her ribs, Yue-ying gradually came back to herself. It was dark and she was on the floor in her sleeping area. The walls of the pavilion creaked around her as they settled.
Before she could catch her breath, the shaking started again. A cry of alarm came from outside the chamber.
It was Mingyu. Mingyu needed her.
Yue-ying struggled onto her hands and knees, while a sea of silk tangled around her. Mingyu’s entire wardrobe had been tossed onto the floor. Yue-ying shoved the material aside and stumbled to the doorway, clinging on to it for balance.
There was no door between the two compartments. A gray light filtered in through the windows of the sitting area and Mingyu was standing at the center of it, her long hair wild about her face. She was dressed in her sleeping garment and the pale cloth coupled with elegant lines made her appear otherworldly. She looked more like a ghost than a woman.
Yue-ying started to go to her, but the building lurched again and she was thrown to her knees. Mingyu fell to the ground as well and they scrambled toward one another. In an uncustomary display of emotion, Mingyu embraced her, clutching her close while the walls shuddered around them. At any moment, the roof would come crashing down to bury them.
It was an eternity before the shaking stopped. Afterward there was absolute quiet; a funereal silence as the inhabitants of the Lotus Palace held their collective breath, waiting. She and Mingyu remained on the floor, holding on to one another and too afraid to move. Then the hum of voices began.
Mingyu let go of her abruptly and straightened, smoothing her hands over her shift. Her chin lifted with a regal air and she was the elite courtesan again.
Yue-ying tried not to feel discarded. She should be accustomed to Mingyu’s changing moods after serving as her personal attendant for the past four years. Mingyu could be warm and engaging, affecting a smile that lit the room brighter than any lantern. When she was not surrounded by admirers, she would often become distant, lost in some inner world of her own making.
“Heaven must be displeased,” Mingyu declared.
She peered out the window with a thoughtful and disturbingly serene expression. Mingyu had perfected that look. Even Yue-ying found it difficult to read her thoughts through it.
“That’s only superstition,” Yue-ying replied.
The ground wavered once more, as if in argument. Yue-ying pressed a hand to the wall to steady herself, while Mingyu stood tall and still, a fixed point amid the turmoil.
* * *
uncommon in the capital city, though this was the most violent one Yue-ying had yet to experience. Everything that could fall had fallen. The dressing room where she slept was a disaster: silk robes were strewn all over the floor and the powder table had overturned, spilling pots and jars everywhere. She was lucky it hadn’t fallen on top of her.
Madame Sun set the other girls to work clearing the parlors and banquet room downstairs. The Lotus Palace was one of the larger establishments in the pleasure quarter of the North Hamlet, also known as the Pingkang li. There were seven ladies, courtesans or courtesans-in-training, along with Old Auntie and Yue-ying.
The courtesans all called Madame Sun “Mother” and did whatever she told them. Even Mingyu, who was the most successful and thus most favored of the “sisters”, never disobeyed her. Yue-ying had heard that Madame Sun could be a demonness with her bamboo switch, though she had yet to witness it.
Unlike the others, Yue-ying had no one to answer to but Mingyu. Also unlike the other girls, she possessed no literary or musical skills to elevate herself in status. Her fate had been decided from birth by a bright red birthmark that curved along her left cheek. The stain rendered her unsuitable for the pleasure houses, for who wished to invest time and money to train a courtesan with a ruined face? A prostitute required no such training.
She was a maidservant now, but up until four years ago she had been nothing but a warm body. The Lotus was indeed a palace compared to the brothel where she’d once lived and she no longer hid her face behind a thick layer of powder. No one cared if a servant was ugly, and no one paid any attention to her when Mingyu was present.
Yue-ying focused on setting their quarters back in order, righting the dressing table and picking the robes off the floor. She selected a light one that was suitable for the warm summer weather before shoving an armful of clothing into the wardrobe. Then she sorted through the cosmetics, salvaging what she could.
Later, as she was fixing Mingyu’s hair, another tremor rocked the pavilion. The force of it was slight in comparison to that morning’s quake, but she inadvertently jabbed Mingyu’s scalp with the long pin she was holding.
“Forgive me,” Yue-ying murmured after regaining her balance.
Mingyu remained seated calmly at the dressing table. “There is nothing to forgive.”
Carefully, Yue-ying inserted the pin into a coil of dark hair to keep it in place. She worked in silence, mentally going over the ever-growing list of tasks she needed to accomplish that day.
“What if something happened to me?” Mingyu asked out of nowhere.
The phrasing of the question sounded decidedly odd. “No one was hurt. We were all very fortunate.”
The courtesan was insistent. “I do not mean just this morning. What if something should happen in the future? Earthquakes often occur one after another. What if the next one brings the building down? Or if the ground opens up?”
“You were not afraid of earthquakes yesterday,” Yue-ying reminded her gently.
Mingyu sniffed. “You know I am not speaking only of earthquakes.”
Yue-ying could see Mingyu’s eyebrows arch sharply in the bronze mirror. Even agitated, she was still beautiful.
“Nothing has happened. Nothing will happen. There is no need to go searching for tragedy.”
Mingyu said nothing more while Yue-ying finished dressing her in a robe of jade-green embroidered with a floral design. The courtesan resembled the paintings of immortals with her luminous skin and eyes that were mysterious and dark. The silk swirled around her as she strode from the dressing room. Her expression was tranquil, but her movements were anything but.
Yue-ying moved with purpose once Mingyu was gone; sweeping the parlor and making it presentable, propping up the broken screen that covered the bedchamber entrance as best she could. The inner rooms she left to be sorted out later.
She was right to move quickly. It wasn’t long before one of Mingyu’s patrons came to call, even though it was only the middle of the morning. Apparently, the earthquake had woken up the city and everyone was eager to gossip.
Taizhu, an appointed court historian, was an occasional visitor to the Lotus, though he had been coming to speak with Mingyu quite often lately. There was a touch of gray to his beard and his face was creased with more laughter lines than frown lines. For an academic, he was an ox of a man with thick shoulders and arms. The indigo color of his robe spoke of his elevated status as a member of the Hanlin Academy.
Yue-ying went to set a clay pot onto the tea stove in the inner chamber. It took her a moment to light the charcoal inside it. When she returned, the elderly scholar was already standing beside the wall with ink brush in hand.
Taizhu wielded his brush like a swordsman, writing onto the wooden panels in black ink. Afterward, he stood back to admire his handiwork and read aloud:
“‘A new Son of Heaven takes the throne. Who is it now?
Hard to say, when each one seems like the last.
But this time the Earth has chosen to pay homage.
Should we all fall to our knees?’”
With a coy look, Mingyu took the brush from the historian’s hands. She presented an elegant contrast to Taizhu’s warrior pose, with one hand holding her sleeve, her brush flowing in small, graceful movements. The old scholar generously read her addition once she had finished.
“‘This humble servant thanks the kind gentleman for precious words.
From a revered talent who has studied the Four Books and Five Classics.
But the tea has not yet been poured,
Is common courtesy no longer taught in the Hanlin Academy?’”
He burst out laughing. “Lady Mingyu thinks I’m a grumbling old man.”
It was a common game in the Pingkang li, the dueling of words back and forth. Yue-ying slipped past them and headed back to the inner chambers to see to the tea. She had little grasp of the sort of language the scholars enjoyed.
The water was ready. Yue-ying measured out tea leaves into two cups and set the pot beside them on the tray. Another guest arrived as she returned to the parlor and she nearly ran into him, tea and all.
Bai Huang was a well-known fixture of the entertainment district. He was a night owl, a flirt, a spendthrift and an eternal student, having failed the imperial exams three times. He was dressed in an opulent blue robe and his topknot was fixed with a silver pin.
“My lord—” She started to mumble out an apology while trying to keep from spilling the tea.
She was met with easy laughter as the young aristocrat reached out to steady the tray. His hand closed over hers and her pulse did a little leap, despite itself.
The corners of his mouth lifted, gracing her with a sly smile, before turning to the others. “Only tea?” he asked with disappointment. “Where’s the wine?”
Taizhu waved him over. “Ah, the young Lord Bai is always good for a few laughs.”
Bai Huang carried the tray over to the party himself, forcing Yue-ying to follow him in an attempt to retrieve it. Her ears were burning by the time she managed to wrest the tray from him, but the nobleman was oblivious.
“When I was awoken this morning by the earthquake, my immediate thoughts went to you, Lady Mingyu,” he said. “I worried for your safety and could not be consoled until I saw with my own eyes that you were unharmed.”
Taizhu snorted. “Your poor suffering heart.”
Mingyu placed a warning hand on Taizhu’s sleeve, but Bai Huang merely accepted the remark with a chuckle. He remained deaf and blind to insult, like a contented frog in a well.
Lord Bai had taken to openly courting Mingyu over the past few months, composing effusive poetry about his loneliness, his sorrow, his aches and his pains, which he would publicly dedicate to Mingyu, reciting verses whenever present company allowed.
If he never had to speak, then Bai Huang and Mingyu would have been perfectly suited. He was the picture of masculine beauty with prominent cheekbones and a strong, chiseled jawline. His eyes were black and always able to catch the light, highlighting the perpetual quirk of amusement on his lips. He bore the high forehead that was considered a sign of cleverness, but anyone who had come across Bai Huang knew better.
Yue-ying made her own effort to keep the peace by pouring hot water over the leaves and setting out the cups. There was no better reminder to be civil than tea. She had to fetch another cup for Lord Bai. After preparing his drink, she glanced up to catch him watching her. The look was there for only a moment before he took his tea.
“Up so early, you scoundrel?” the old scholar taunted. “After last night, I thought you would still be pickled in rice wine at this hour.”
“Your concern touches me deeply, Lord Bai,” Mingyu interrupted in a soothing tone.
He looked obliviously pleased. Taizhu shook his head, fingers pinched to the bridge of his nose. Yue-ying went downstairs to fetch a plate of red bean cakes from the kitchen as it seemed the men would stay awhile. When she returned, the old historian had turned the conversation back to the imperial court.
“This is an opportunity to advise the Emperor that he must change course. Heaven has given us a sign. Earthquakes and floods have been known to topple dynasties,” the historian pointed out sagely.
Bai Huang was already shaking his head. “A sign of what? It sounds more like superstitious doomsaying,” he said with a bored look.
“What does it matter if it’s superstition or not? If such a disaster gains the Emperor’s attention, then it can be used as a means to an end,” Taizhu argued.
“This morning’s disaster serves as a better excuse for a couple of friends to complain over tea,” Bai Huang contended, lifting his cup. He attempted to drink, then frowned and peered into it, finding it empty.