Book Review: The Scarlet Kimono by Christina Courtenay

scarletkimonoThe Scarlet Kimono by Christina Courtenay

Abducted by a Samurai warlord in 17th-century Japan – what happens when fear turns to love?

England, 1611, and young Hannah Marston envies her brother’s adventurous life. But when she stows away on a merchant ship, her powers of endurance are stretched to their limit. Then they reach Japan and all her suffering seems worthwhile – until she is abducted by Taro Kumashiro’s warriors.

In the far north of the country, samurai warlord Kumashiro is intrigued to learn more about the girl who he has been warned about by a seer. There’s a clash of cultures and wills, but they’re also fighting an instant attraction to each other.

With her brother desperate to find her and the jealous Lady Reiko equally desperate to kill her, Hannah faces the greatest adventure of her life. And Kumashiro has to choose between love and compromising his honour

Purchased from Audible as an audiobook, narrator Julia Franklin does a decent turn, managing to get voices that are different enough, especially for the men, as well as pronouncing (correctly I hope) the Japanese words in the text.

This book is broken up into several parts: the teenage Hannah, brought up in a privileged city atmosphere, head strong but understanding little of the world of men.  Attracted by the apparently romantic sea faring men, she is horrified by her parents arranging her betrothal to a man who fondles her during a town party.

The second portion of the book tells of when she escapes on a boat, spending the next 18 months travelling to the newly opened Japan. Having thought the boat she sneaked onto was captained by her brother, she is shocked to find that the captain is some one else, who is less than the romantic ideal she thought he was. She keeps herself hidden in the bowels of the ship, along with the Japanese cook, learning more about Japanese culture and how  to speak Japanese.

Trapped in a marriage she didnt want (to protect her reputation), she finds herself in Japan, kidnapped by a man who is fascinated by her thick red hair whose Sensei had predicted her arrival.

The next part of the book is dedicated to their developing relationship as she learns more about Japanese culture and the strength behind a Shogun and his daiymo. Their relationship is threatened on several occasions, particularly by Taro’s sister-in-law, who wishes to be Taro’s next wife, to the point where she is prepared to kill Hannah to get what she wants.

Finally, the disconnect between the western and eastern worlds comes to a head and both Hannah and Taro need to decide what’s important to them.

Ultimately this is a standard romance story, in the standard format. There is the usual “threat to split the couple up” near the end, but the couple are finally reunited with all impediments neatly dealt with to make it easier for the couple to remain together. Once Hannah is on the ship, she spares no thought for her family (apart from her brother who she thinks is on the ship).  Her parents and her siblings are never given a second thought, with no concerns as to what her disappearance could mean to the people back in England.There is an assumption that the reader knows the basics about Japanese culture so, for example, tatami mats covering the floors are not explained.   The narrative switches between intense detail during a particular scene and “meanwhile, 3 weeks later…..this happens”.

Reading back the above implies that I didnt like the book. Whilst I didnt hate it, I didnt adore it either. It was a nice book to listen to, it was a setting different to normal historical romances, and the author didnt treat the reader like a complete idiot. There’s some adult situations, but described appropriately, so only the most sensitive will be offended.

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