History, Romance, Meiji Restoration Japan, 1860s
RATING: 3.5 STARS
HEAT RATING: 2
1868. In Japan’s exotic pleasure quarters, sex is for sale and the only forbidden fruit is love …
Hana is just seventeen when her husband goes to war, leaving her alone and vulnerable. When enemy soldiers attack her house she flees across the shattered city of Tokyo and takes refuge in the Yoshiwara, its famous pleasure-quarters.There she is forced to become a courtesan.
Yozo, brave, loyal and a brilliant swordsman, is pledged to the embattled shogun. He sails to the frozen north to join his rebel comrades for a desperate last stand. Defeated, he makes his way south to the only place where a man is beyond the reach of the law – the Yoshiwara.
There in the Nightless City where three thousand courtesans mingle with geishas and jesters, the battered fugitive meets the beautiful courtesan. But each has a secret so terrible that once revealed it will threaten their very lives …
Firstly, it is worth noting that the blurb for this book is slightly misleading, as the story does not arrive at the point described until some 300 pages in, with the preceding text relating the separate in-depth backstories of Hana and Yozo, the courtesan and samurai of the title.
Hana is a samurai wife abandoned by her husband who goes off to fight for the deposed Shogun and leaves her to defend the family home. When southern raiders come to loot the house and capture Hana, she is forced to flee, and ends up as a celebrated courtesan in the Yoshiwara – the pleasure quarter just outside Edo. From her gilded cage, Hana reflects that although her life in the Corner Tamiya is far from ideal, in many ways she has more freedom than she did as an unloved wife.
Yozo is a samurai loyal to the now-deposed shogun. He is an anomaly of the late Tokugawa shogunate – a samurai who has spent time travelling Europe and broadening his horizons. In traditionally inward-looking Japan, all things alien are questionable, and those few Japanese who absorb foreign customs to any extent are considered to be traitors of a sort, and highly suspect. Although he is devoted to his cause, and has proven himself many times in battle, his peers mistrust him still. Yozo fights until all hope is lost, and then ends up seeking refuge in the Yoshiwara with his friend Marlin, where he meets Hana.
Once Hana and Yozo meet, there is an instant frisson between them. Both of them were northerners loyal to old ways, and they find solace in each other’s pain. Although the moments they share are well written, the relationship between the two of them seems almost rushed, as much more time is spent describing what is happening in the world around them than examining the developing feelings they have for one another. I did want the two of them to be together, but this was more because I felt that the hardship that they both faced throughout the novel meant that they were due some happiness by the end!
The book works well as a history of the Meiji Restoration through the eyes of the losing side. As Downer states in her afterword, history is written by the winners and often the voices of the losing side are lost to us. I felt like I came away having learned something, which an aspect of reading that I value highly. For those, like myself, who really like to sink their teeth into an era once their interest has been piqued, Downer provides a decent bibliography. This is broken down into sections, and even has a few films thrown in, which is something of a novelty. All in all, the book is excellent from a historical point of view, but the last 150 pages or so seemed very hurried, which detracted from the relationship between the two main characters and scrambled things a bit. Still definitely worth a read though 🙂
LADY OF MISRULEHi, I’m Bek , a twentysomething bookworm, but I prefer to call myself a member of the Literati I have been a big fan of Historical fiction for almost a decade. I am a proud Yorkshire rose, and my interest for history was initially sparked by the War of the Roses, but has from this seed bloomed into a full on passion! I am a person who is never satisfied unless they are learning, or working towards something. Books set in a historical setting help me to scratch that itch, and my lengthy commute to work and back every day means that I often get through them at a good pace! I’m also a sucker for a good, tasteful love story