When I saw that Jeannie Lin’s Capturing the Silken Thief was free on Kindle I decided that I needed to read something different from what I have been reading, which is a bunch of historicals and contemporaries with white people all up in them.
What sets Silken Thief apart is that it’s set in imperial China and its main characters are both Chinese and they come from lower class origins, although they both aspire to more.
Luo Cheng is a poor scholar from the provinces who is studying for his second–and final–attempt at the civil service exam. If he passes, he will be assured of a position in the civil service and will bring great honor to his family and home town.
Yang Jia-jing is a pipa player indebted to her troupe leader–but if she can locate a pillow book, she will be able to pay her debts and be free t o choose her own fate.
Cheng’s on his way back to his rooms when he’s mugged and loses his satchel of books and essay in progress–and when he arrives at his rooms he discovers Jia there. She’d been searching his room for the pillow book but was unable to find it. Eventually, she tells Cheng that she was behind the mugging and that she will get him his books and essay back if he helps her get the book. Since Cheng has a pretty good idea who actually has the book–which is in and of itself stolen property–he agrees.
Cheng and Jia have a few narrow scrapes and then one big scrape together and the ending is a bit “Gift of the Magi-esque” but way less ironically tragic, but this was a straight forward and fun read.
My only complaint was the slightness of it–this is only about 56 pages long and ended at the 75% mark in my Kindle, so a good quarter of the file is promotional material for other titles, including a full length novel in this same setting.
Lin’s extraordinarily good at grounding a reader unfamiliar with the ins and outs of imperial China in a way that’s not info-dumpy at all–Lin could give lessons on this to a few spec fic writers, in fact!. I also had no problem understanding the intricacies of both Jia and Cheng’s situations and why their respective successes were so important to them. They were both engaging and well-rounded characters, even if the romantic development was pretty darned fast. It also felt like there were missing scenes–there could have been better transitions as there were a lot of abrupt shifts.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed this and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lin’s work in the future. I’m off to buy The Lotus Palace right now, in fact.