by Barbara Sheridan, historical (2008)
Loose Id, $4.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-641-5
Samurai Captive has nothing to do with Barbara Sheridan's series with Anne Cain, The Dragon's Disciple. It is a standalone novella-length story set in Japan during the Edo era, or year 1863 to be exact. Mind you, this one isn't your typical sweet romance either because it has plenty of naughty antics including male-male and female-female interactions.
Hannah Connolly is a maid who was following her employer and his entourage on a horse ride when one of them offended a samurai and caused the samurai to pull out his sword and go medieval on everyone. Left for dead on the roadside, Hannah was rescued by a farmer who proceeded to sell her to a whorehouse when she had sufficiently recovered. So here she is, on display in a cage-like contraption in front of an Edo brothel and muttering under her breath about barbarians and British officers who apparently didn't care enough to even drop by, much less come to her rescue. She figures that she may as well give the onlookers a show to remember.
Our hero Sanada Katsuhiro - no, I don't know if he is part of the famous Sanada family - is most taken by what he calls a "red-haired temptress". Maybe the fact that she is fondling a fellow courtesan has something to do with her appeal. So he goes ahead and does what any well-moneyed gentleman would do: he buys her. For some reason I will probably never understand, Hannah is happy to put on a show for the guys but she is not happy when her free show leads to her being bought by one of the men in the audience. Does she expect to be patted in the head instead? At any rate, Hannah is not a happy property and she bites too, not that Katsu is too unhappy about that. The better for him to tame her, after all.
Unfortunately, Katsu's boyfriend Sato Masato is not going to remain sanguine when Katsu decides that he's in love with Hannah because (a) she's, after all, a barbarian according to the Japanese and (b) Masato fancies himself in love with Katsu. Oh dear, this can only end badly, right?
Hannah's behavior can be inconsistent here. One moment she will recklessly tease Katsu and does a complete 180 and pull a "Don't touch me!" act the next, and she will remain this way while deciding way too early in my opinion that she's attracted to Katsu. I also have a hard time buying the fact that Katsu is in love with her because they spend more time arguing or having sex in this story. On the other hand, I find the relationship between Katsu and Masato much more interesting because this one has everything that the other relationship doesn't: melodrama, pathos, jealousy, volatile passions, and a showdown between the two men that leads to a poignant conclusion.
It is the relationship between Katsu and Masato that drives this story to its charged denouement, making Samurai Captive a far more emotionally gripping and memorable read than it otherwise would be were it a story solely about Katsu and Hannah. Ultimately, I have a pretty good time with Samurai Captive, especially when the story component here is as strong as its titillation elements. Still, I can't help feeling at the end of the day that Hannah is an annoying interloper and I'd rather wear the fanclub T-shirt for the Katsu and Masato coupling.
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