Very enchanting wonderful story filled with suspense, adventure and emotional angst-filled trials. Surprised the hell out of me how much I enjoyed it. This was a 5 star read from the beginning. If it wasn't for the 2nd half of the book I would have given this a 5 star without hesitation. I thought both the hero and heroine were unique fully fleshed out real original characters who I really loved and enjoyed reading about. Troth is a half-Scottish half-Chinese woman who's been forced to live her life as a man (Jin Kang) in order to be 'accepted' in the Chinese society she was brought into. Lord Maxwell, Kyle crosses paths with Troth during his trip across seas. It was really interesting and quite enthralling to see these two interact. Kyle is suspicious and weary of his mysterious draw and attraction to the quiet unassuming laborer assistant 'Jin Kang'. I loved seeing these two slowly be drawn to each other and spend time together on their treck to Canton to sneak into the Hoshan temple.
And this may be only my second book I've read by Putney but I have to say her depth and skill of writing such vivid scenery, setting, descriptive detail to every single thing was a complete draw in for me. I could not put this book down because of it. She paid so much attention to the history, culture, time setting and way of life for all the characters in this book that I got completely lost in it. I loved it. Everything felt so real. The characters completely stood out from the pages they were so real and I felt so intuned with them. I was really impressed with how Putney handled writing the characters and setting up the story with such vivid detail. Kudos to her! I found myself learning so much right along with Klyle about the Chinese culture and their traditions. There was nothing fake or contrived about this story. When you get so completely sucked into a story you know it's a good one.
The sexual tension and playful interaction between Klyle and Troth was really addictive to read about. The chemistry and sexual tension between the two was enthralling and explosive to read about. The was nothing forced about it. The scenes in the jail cell in particular just melted me. Troth having to say goodbye to Kyle like that had me on the verge of tears & broke my heart. It just made me want to read the book faster to see what happens next. Those were some major stand out scenes from the entire book for me. The story actually begins in the 'middle' where we see a heartbroken Troth arriving at Kyle's family's residence about to tell them about his death. The story jumps from present to past in the first half where we see the story unfold and how the characters end up where they are in the beginning of the book. The 2nd book picks up from present day where we see the couple 'reunite' and deal with their circumstance.
The thing I struggled with a little and made the story wain a little was the second half once Kyle returns from his release in prison. I was expecting a lot of angst, tension and misunderstandings like any typical romance drama. But here....I think Putney let it drag out a little too long
. It just made the conclusion not as wonderful as I was hoping it would be. It didn't have the emotional impact I was hoping for. I think the fact that it took the couple forever
to realize they loved each other and to voice their feelings just got drawn out too long. I just hated that the final ‘climactic’ HEA ending wasn’t as climactic as I wanted it to be, it was underwhelming when it finally came to a conclusion.
Also the much anticipated reunion between Kyle and Troth when he returns from jail I was anxiously waiting for through the entire story was underwhelming and disappointing. We see them drift apart and Troth's continuous resentment towards him and brittle anger and rebellious attitude against him and his English family I think was a little unfair and unfounded considering everything he did for her and way he treated her through most of the book. I thought she was lashing out at the wrong people for her understandable misgivings and frustrations. Her shift in personality and frame of mind was little bit out of character too. Troth always was in the mindset and grew up thinking she didn't belong anywhere, was ugly and not worthy of marriage to someone like Kyle. I understood her hesitant regard towards being a permanent fixture in his life and thinking of herself as just an obligation. But the constant misunderstandings, miscommunication, misconstruing each other's words got to a point of redundant and really tiresome. They had a whole bunch of unspoken feelings and miscommunication going on between them thinking the other was just an obligation who didn't want to be married. Good grief. Cut it out! I really think the back and forth game and dragging it out till eternity just watered down the story. It started to muddle everything wonderful that happened previously. It went from beautiful heartbreaking story about two people discovering each other and finding love to a silly 'yes, no' tired old misgivings game we see play out dozens of times in HR books. I understood the tension and the whys in the first half but in the second half it was dragged out and milked for all it's worth that it became silly and tiresome and really unnecessary. I lost count how many times those two repeated the same start/stop conversation of ‘do you want to continue to be married to me?’. Just come out and SAY what you feel and stop with the cat and mouse game.
Also I didn't much care for Kyle's first love Constancia that he kept comparing his time and what he felt for her with how he feels for Troth. The man was clearly confused and unsure but the constant questioning and talking in circles about 'should they?' or 'shouldn't they?' give their marriage a real shot drove me up the wall. Constancia was his only other love in his life before meeting Troth, so it was understandable why she had such a significance in his life. But seeing as how he met the much older courtesan when he was 18 and made her his mistress for the next ten years I wasn't a big fan of. But that's more of personal taste so *shrugs*....
Another thing I didn't really care for and thought was completely out of character for Troth was that silly 'suicide' attempt she pulled after hearing the scathing things Kyle's father said about her being unfit as his wife. Total WTF? jumped the shark moment for me. She came off so desperate and manipulative in that scene considering she pulled the stunt only to 'get a reaction' out of him. I really didn't like that. It was so out of character for someone like her to do. Troth is a very level-headed honest forthright person. She doesn't do sneaky desperate stunts like that. No matter how shattered.
Overall great story, great first half.... that alone was 5 star. The second half: 3.5/4 star.