This review can also be found at Three Dollar Bill Reviews.
This erotic romance with strong themes of fetishism, dubious consent, prostitution and more than a generous dollop of yaoi certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. In the end though what let this book down wasn’t the themes, the plot or the execution but rather the large number of characters which led to superficial characterisation and a lack of connection between myself and the characters.
The story begins in Osaka, Japan. Gabriel, a rich American man who works a desk job as a translator for the CIA, has come to Osaka for one reason only: To feed his fetish for young mixed race Japanese men. Whilst in a restaurant he spies Kuri, who works as a host boy in a local host club. Gabriel pays for Kuri’s time and although Kuri is a little cautious he goes with Gabriel. Things don’t work out as planned for Gabriel and Kuri and they part, but when Kuri’s best friend and lover, Daichi, goes missing, Kuri calls on Gabriel to help him, plunging them into a potentially tragic situation.
I said at the beginning of this review that the main problem is the number of characters in the book. The book contains no less than 10 characters, all of whom have an important part to play in the story. This is mainly because the story is split into two halves. The first half, set in Japan, takes us through the meeting of Kuri and Gabriel and establishes the relationship between Kuri and Daichi, and their friends-with-benefits relationship with room mates and fellow host boys Sori and Takumi. The second half involves Kuri’s desperate attempt to discover what has happened to Daichi, and also follows Daichi as he tries to survive his captivity along with several other young Asian men, particularly a man called Jokara and a Vietnamese man, Zahirah. Added to this are the two villains, Abdullah and Akmal, as well as a CIA agent Cyd and Gabriel’s therapist, and the whole book was in danger of being very overcrowded. The main consequence of this is that the book is mostly plot driven, with much of the characterisation being limited to shallow interactions. One exception to this is Gabriel, whose feelings about his fetish are explored sympathetically in the first part of the story. I found it a great shame then that this theme faded into the background as the book progressed. Later in the book, Gabriel is forced to face up to his fetish and try and overcome his feelings, but these scenes were all written from the point of view of the other characters, and as a result, I felt this was a missed opportunity to get back into Gabriel’s head and see first hand his thoughts as he struggles with this. Instead we had only Gabriel’s words, body language and facial expression to indicate his inner turmoil.
Although the story is plot driven, much of that plot is made up of sex scenes, some of which are dubious consent. Those readers who prefer their characters to remain monogamous to one another through a romance book, are going to be disappointed with this book. Kuri has sex with about six different people and has sexual acts performed on his body by even more. As well as that there are a few scenes where he is being watched whilst having sex. Kuri isn’t the only one, Daichi too has sex with numerous partners. Nearly all the sex happens without condoms. Personally, I didn’t mind all the sex scenes as many of them happen for a reason, whether to show situation or to further the plot. I have to admit the lack of condoms made me uncomfortable, but again, I could see why this happened for many of the sex scenes. However, I’m sure there are readers out there who wouldn’t be as accepting of this as I was.
There were several things that worked well for me in the book. For example, the way that the life of a host boy was depicted. On the surface, the boys are happy with their life, the money they make and the attention they get. As the book progresses and Kuri and Daichi take a break from their host boy jobs, they are able to evaluate their past and see it for the tawdry, debilitating occupation it is. The theme of friendship is also explored effectively, not just between the four host boys, but also the boys that Kuri and Daichi encounter during their captivity. Friendship is also linked with trust, another theme which worked well as we follow the characters as they learn who they can, and can’t, trust and who is to be counted a friend or an enemy. The story itself, although a little overwrought in places, was unusual with a good mix of tense drama and lighter moments.
Despite its flaws, Little Japan was still an engrossing read. I didn’t find myself getting bored, even with the large number of sex scenes, possibly because the sex was varied and sensual. The plot also zipped along at a fair rate and I was having so much fun with the story that I could overlook some of the more preposterous parts of the book. Fans of the authors, used to the way they push at the boundaries of m/m romance, will probably be delighted with this book. I found it to be a pleasant diversion, but not without fault and it gets a grade of 'Good'.
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