AUTHOR: Barbara Sheridan
PUBLISHER: Loose Id
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
When circumstances find an English maid thrust into the window of a Japanese brothel, she does what she can to make the best of a bad situation. Hannah Connolly puts on a show for the men who consider her a barbarian, but when samurai Sanada Katsuhiro actually purchases her, an attempt to escape just means he has to tie her to the bed when he gets her home. Hannah is torn between being the samurai’s whore and her independent nature, especially since his lover and best friend, samurai Sato Masato, makes it clear she’s not welcome…
I should make an admission upfront. I am not well-versed in Asian culture, whether it's pop culture, political history, or sociological development. I don't read yaoi, or watch anime. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate a gorgeous or charismatic Asian actor, but I’m only familiar with those who’ve crossed into American culture (like Chow Yun Fat, oh holy moly, he can come to my house any day). That being said, I’ve always found myself intrigued with historical Asian stories. Not enough to call myself a fangirl, but certainly enough to interest me when I saw this title at Loose Id.
First of all, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. You know what I think? I think April Martinez and Anne Cain should get together and do a coffee table book of all their best covers. Something I can curl up with and flip through so that I can pet all the pretty. And include this one. I’d buy that book so fast, my credit card would catch on fire.
That being said, the story fell a little short in reaching the high standards of the cover. While the plot itself is fine enough on its own, the characterizations and underlying relationships were what gave me pause.
Hannah is meant to be a strong woman, but her characterization is scattershot at best. The daughter of a whore, she was raised to be better than that and is now a maidservant. She has a strong temperament, and does what she can to survive, so when she’s put on display at the brothel, she is determined not to have to survive on her back. So what does she do? She puts on a show that specifically titillates her male audience, including going down on one of the older women in the house. This is supposed to turn them off from wanting her? Um…no. It succeeds in catching Katsu’s interest, so he buys her, but the first thing she does is try and escape. He catches her, but her struggles are mostly lipservice because she’s attracted to him. All her protestations about not being a whore go right out the window as far as he is concerned, which doesn’t really lend any credence to believing her earlier protests. That kind of back and forth is fairly typical of the rest of the story as well, but I think we’re supposed to buy it because, oh yeah, she’s the heroine.
Then there’s the relationship between Katsu and Masato. Both samurai, they have been lovers and best friends since they were teenagers, through Katsu’s first marriage, all the way to the night Katsu brings Hannah home. By Katsu’s own admission, Masato has been the one to be there for him through everything, both sexually and emotionally. He’s been indoctrinated to believe that women are not to be trusted because their loyalties will always be divided between their families and their husbands. All that holds true until he brings Hannah home. Then, all he seems able to think about is her, though I have no idea why because all they do is have sex, then she snaps at him, he shuts her out, and then they have sex again. Oh, but she’s the heroine, so he has to all of a sudden shut out the one person who’s been there from the beginning for him. It’s really no wonder at all that Masato doesn’t like Hannah. I’d be pissed, too. This isn’t a romance. This is lust, and Katsu can’t see that.
Ultimately, the root of the problem is Katsu, I think. There are moments when he’s wonderful – noble and admirable and most importantly, likable. Then there are moments when he’s such a complete ass, both to Masato and Hannah. He completely turns his back on all the years he’s had with Masato for this woman, without any real good reason except he wants her. He has sex with Masato while thinking of her, too. It didn’t make me like him at all. What it did was make me feel sorry for Masato for being in love with such a shit.
When the story concentrates on Katsu and Masato (before Katsu turns his back on him) or the overlying plot of Katsu trying to catch the people smuggling opium into
7/10 – The heroine’s voice never engaged me, which means plodding along in several sections of the story.
6/10 – At times, very arresting. At others, such an asshole.
5/10 – Inconsistent at best, but at least she’s not a simp.
5/10 – Glimmers of a darker, more interesting story peek through, but the misplacement of the romance kept me detached.
7/10 – Some nice details, but to a newbie, it lacks clarity that a glossary at the end can’t compensate for.