My one hope whenever I pick up a romance novel to read is that the author will give me a moment of truth in the story, that moment when you know exactly what these fictional people are feeling, going through, and tormented by. When that happens, you bleed for them. They stop being fictional characters conjured up from the author’s imagination. They become real. They become flesh and blood, with hopes, dreams, hurts and triumphs.
Jeannie Lin seems particularly skilled at creating this moment for me. She has a way of tormenting her characters, making them figuratively bleed on the page, and knocking the wind out of the reader. The Sword Dancer is rife with these moments, in large part thanks to the plot. Li Feng, a sword dancer living on the wrong side of the law, finds herself having to elude a notorious thief-catcher, Zheng Hao Han, our hero, while she works to unravel the mystery that is her own past.
Naturally the two characters are drawn to each other, never mind that she’s a criminal and he’s essentially a bounty hunter. He has a defined, strict moral code and has a sense of justice that is very black and white. Meanwhile, she’s willing to blur, and outright break, various laws to find the truth of what happened to her family. Once their attraction becomes too much for both of them to ignore, it makes for some gut-wrenching moments.
“You would never understand,” she went on vehemently. “The meaning of family. Of loyalty.”
“You don’t know what you’re speaking of, Li Feng.”
His voice barely rose, but his face flushed hot with anger. She had gone too far. He knew about the importance of family. He’d sacrificed everything for his.
“Your family is alive, yet you’ve turned away from them. You’ve chosen to be alone.”
He froze beneath her onslaught, but this wasn’t about his family or his loss. It was about hers.
“Li Feng, don’t run away. Just – just stay for once.” He was angry at her, angry for her. He didn’t know anymore.
“I know who you are, Zheng Hao Han,” she challenged. “You believe in upholding the law, yet you’ve taken a liking to me. So you’ve told yourself I must be innocent, because how could Thief-catching Han ever befriend a common criminal?”
He could feel her slipping away as she pulled out of the shadows and back into the sunlight.
“But I’m not innocent,” she declared. “Don’t follow me anymore. We go our separate ways from here, Han. This is the way is has to be and you know it.”
Li Feng is right, of course. We as the reader know she is right. No matter their feelings, no matter the attraction, how is a thief-catcher with a rigid belief in justice going to get the girl, in this case the girl being a criminal. That’s the rub, how can these two people be together when everything seems to indicate that they must never be together? Right there is the magic of a romance novel, because we know somehow the author is going to make it work. Li Feng and Han aren’t done emotionally bleeding at the time this scene comes into play, but it’s the first step in them both realizing that they must find a way. They need to find a way to make it work—not just their feelings for each other, but also the minor detail that one of them is a wanted criminal.
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.