He was in my hair, my eyes, my fingers, my heart. I day-dreamed about what he was doing, thinking, seeing, smelling, feeling. I could not eat for thoughts of him.
So this is also sort of a ‘flashback’ Friday. I first read Peony in Love by Lisa See about six years ago, but it is a story that has stuck with me. This is not a YA book, it’s 100% historical romance, but it centers around a teenage character.
Peony in Love is set in 17th century China and it is sort of a re-telling with a story within a story of the classic Chinese tale of The Peony Pavilion. If you aren’t familiar with that tale, don’t worry, you don’t need to be to enjoy this book and a lot of parts of it are incorporated. It is the most popular play of the Ming Dynasty, and it is still performed to this day. So if you are curious, it is easy to find details on it.
Within Peony in Love, the young teen Peony has been living her life at her family compound but is approaching the time when she must marry… in an arranged marriage. She is a girl very much in love with her limited idea of love. Her father hosts a troupe of performers to perform The Peony Pavilion, and this story starts to mimic in her own world. (Or rather, she begins to mimic the feelings that are presented, and they become her own.) In a fateful moment, Peony meets someone for a brief moment, and the idea of a marriage to someone she does not know becomes unbearable. Peony has all the power to chose whether her story becomes like that of the girl in the play, or whether she becomes obedient and honors her family’s wishes.
Perhaps he was afraid as I was that we’d be caught. Or perhaps he was breathing me in just as I was letting him come into my lungs, my eyes, my heart.
For me, “Peony in Love” was a seamless blend of history, romance, heartbreak, and the paranormal. I was completely absorbed by the history, the voices, and by Peony herself as she shifted from a child-like naivety to a heart-broken adolescent to a knowledgable afterworld presence. There were times I was just plain mad at Peony, the character, and times where I felt everything with her and was moved to tears.
If you love historical romance fiction, you owe it to yourself to try this book. Lisa See is a wonderful writer and you can feel the amount of research that has gone into each of her books to craft them into a beautiful story. The imagery, especially, is something that has stuck with me. I would highly recommend looking up images of the art and architecture of the age so that you can get a better sense of place.
Ahh. Anyway, it was so good to revisit this book. Lisa See has a new book coming out soon, so I really wanted to re-read some of her works. If you haven’t already, also be sure to read her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It’s a classic.