Let me tell you what I regret about Jeannie Lin’s THE LOTUS PALACE. I regret every day that I didn’t read this book. Now, understand that I wanted to read it. I wanted to read it so much that I somehow own three copies–one in paperback, one for the Nook and one for the Kindle.

Now I think I didn’t buy enough of them.

So what took me so long? Part of it was the fact that I’ve let myself get into that writer-funk where you think you don’t have time to read. A recent convention where I heard Sylvia Day speak convinced me that was foolish. Writers don’t just write. They need to read. It’s the fuel and the tool that opens up our minds to new techniques and approaches.

And THE LOTUS PALACE does all that not just with its artistry, but by smashing romance genre expectations and drawing the reader into an extraordinary historical fiction world. This is a love story between a man and a woman, make no mistake. But the loving brushstrokes with which the author paints the bright world of courtesans and scholars in Tang Dynasty China speaks to a different kind of passion.

THE LOTUS PALACE pulls the reader into a murder mystery in a forgotten time that is both alluring and painful. I loved every detail. The lamps, the flowers, the tea, the pots of cosmetics, the silk sashes, the dragon boats. The way this world came alive was as sweet and surprising as a mouthful of pop rocks.

And that’s to say nothing of the pleasure of learning all the cultural details that are woven effortlessly into the fabric of the plot. The heroine, Yue-ying, is a woman with a marked face who wants to save her sister from being convicted of a crime she didn’t commit. She is helped in this endeavor by a supposedly hapless scholar who is smitten with her.

You probably think you have heard this story before. Or that you know how it will unfold. You don’t. Yue-ying isn’t a fiesty romance heroine with a wit that makes men forget about her marked face. Neither is she a sad mopey cinderella in the ashes, in need of rescue by a hero who sees her true beauty.

She is actually a rather quiet person of majestic dignity, housed in the body of a lowly serving girl. Reading about this former prostitute as she holds onto an innate belief in her own worth–in spite of her own cynicism about the world and her place in it–is captivating. In truth, even love itself, freely offered by a patient and earnest man of position, is a challenge to her sense of worth.

These are people who work hard for their happy ending.

I know Jeannie Lin–have worked with her and read her books before–so I know that she’s talented. I knew I would enjoy the book when I read it. What I didn’t know is that it would be a new level of awesome from her. Be smarter than I was. Read this book right away.