Capturing the Silken Thief by Jeannie Lin is everything a good short story should give readers. It's has a fully realized plot, well developed characters, and is a complete story. I love the Harlequin Historical Undone line, but I've read enough of them to say that they're not all created equal. This one though? This is one of the good'uns.
Jia is a singer, a musician, and essentially an indentured servant. She plays for her wages, and in theory should one day have earned enough coin to pay for her freedom. Of course, we all know that's not really how it works. The price keeps rising, and she knows if she is ever going to be free she'll need to do something drastic. Opportunity falls in her lap when she learns a very wealthy man is willing to pay a large sum of money to get his hands on a book of poetry written by a famous courtesan. The trick? Finding the book, which was last seen at the Lotus Pavilion. The last man who had his hands on the book fits the description of Luo Cheng, yet another face in the parade of uppity scholars that invade the North Hamlet every year hoping to pass the imperial exams.
Luo was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He's a farm boy, a country boy who wants nothing more than to elevate his station and bring honor to his family. Think of it as the poor scholarship kid who finds himself attending some Ivy League prep school. Anywho, Luo has attempted the imperial exams twice already, and failed. This is his last shot, and he's studying his fingers to the bone, desperate to make good. Then Jia shows up throwing a wrench in the works.
I really enjoyed this story, in large part because these are characters you don't see every day in historical romance. I don't really want to label Luo a "geek" - but he's not a sword-wielding Alpha warrior either. He's a scholar. He's a guy who does a lot of living in his head. Jia is street-smart, savvy, and knows all too well how the world works. She's seen both sides of the coin. It's easy to understand how she stereotypes Luo even before she meets him, and she's not the sort of character who gets the wool pulled over her eyes that easily. They're a good match. Jia wakes Luo up and as a result he has a bit of an epiphany regarding his upcoming exams. In turn, Jia finds herself reevaluating to what lengths she will go to attain what she desires. Yes, she desperately wants her freedom, but does she want to sell her soul in the process?
This is a very good story, and an excellent introduction to Lin's work. If you've been curious to try this relatively new author, but haven't been sure about investing your time in a full-length novel, this tasty morsel is just the ticket.
Final Grade = B+