Maybe it's just me? This is one of those times where I look at the reviews after I've read a book and feel like I read something very different from everyone else. I'll try to pin down my feelings as succinctly as possible.
On the plus side this book is full of accurately portrayed mythology (Daoist & Buddhist) and culture (Chinese & Chinese American) that is going to be new to a lot of people. It's great to see this being represented so well in an urban fantasy. On the flip side of that, this book had that feeling over-researched books can get where it's stuffed to the gills with every morsel of knowledge the author could possible cram in, and then some. You could tell there were details and scenes that Boroson couldn't bare to part with, and the novel was written around them. To put it another way: it felt like the core of the book was the information the author wanted to share and the story was sort of a loose vehicle to convey it, rather than the story being the core with the details working to enrich it.
I think part of the problem stems from the 1st person perspective. Li-Lin essentially spends the story explaining her culture and motivations to...herself? It would be weird if I wrote a 1st person narrative about my life, and as I walked down the street I had a long interior monologue when I see a Starbucks about what coffee means culturally here in America. It's no less weird to me when Li-lin does this almost every other page. She also repeats herself. A lot. She actually has the same interior conversation almost word for word with herself numerous times. To make it even more of a turn-off for me I really didn't care for Li-Lin. I understand what the author was doing by portraying her as submissive and self-doubting, it is historically/culturally accurate for the setting, but it did not endear her to me. She has very low self-worth and I spent the book wanting her to realize she was a badass (which I would argue doesn't really happen, though others seem to disagree).
So here's the thing: I'm grouchy. I fully and openly admit this. It's been a tough year, and reading a book from the perspective of a woman who thinks she is less than all the men around her, and puts almost zero value on her own worth, is not really the narrative I'm in the mood for right now. I will also admit that I read for character first, plot second, and setting last, and in this book setting is the big draw, the plot was full of holes, and I couldn't connect to the main character. So it's no wonder my relationship with this one was doomed. It's quite possible it's just me. There's some great intro to Daoism stuff in here, as well as martial arts, and if you're curious this will give you a good taste. It's also a pretty good romp if you want some fun brain candy with a Chinese flair. As for me I'm just going to have to put this one in the Not My Thing pile and move on. (However, if they make a TV series or movie I'd love to see some of this come to life on the screen.)