Captive Bride

Captive BrideBy Bonnie Dee

Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: February 14, 2011
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Netgalley

San Francisco, 1870

Huiann arrives in America expecting to be wed to a wealthy businessman. She no sooner disembarks from the ship than she realizes Xie is not looking for a bride: Huiann is worth more to him as a high-end prostitute. Though her fate is better than that of other Chinese women forced into the sex trade, she has no intention of waiting for Xie to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. At the first opportunity, she escapes and disappears into the city.

When a beautiful woman takes refuge in his store, Alan’s life changes forever. He’s spent the last five years trying to forget the horrors of war, and had almost given up hope of finding love. He hires Huiann as his housekeeper, and though they can only communicate through signs and sketches, they quickly form a bond that transcends the need for words.

But Xie is determined to recover his property, and love may not be enough to protect Huiann from his vengeance.

Goodreads Summary

Having had her virginity confirmed, her body examined by Xie, the man she thought she’d been sent to America to marry, and now sold for deflowering, Huiann was being delivered to the highest bidder when she saw her chance at escape and jumped into the crowd in a busy San Francisco marketplace.  She runs into a general store and finding the friendly – and stunned – face of the owner, ducks behind the counter to hide from Lui Dai, Xie’s henchman.  When he comes in demanding to know if she’s there, the store owner lies and said he never saw her.

Alan had first seen Huiann when she disembarked from her ship from China days earlier and was shocked to see her barrel into his store.  He could see she was terrified and his first instinct was to lie for her and offer shelter.  Although she doesn’t speak English and he doesn’t speak Chinese, they decide she’ll act as his housekeeper for his apartment above the shop in exchange for room and board.  The language barrier leaves Huiann a little uneasy about the specifics of their agreement – she’s wondering if Alan will expect her to perform sexual favors for him.  She doesn’t find his American face particularly handsome, his western food very appetizing and his manners are confusing.

I picked this up because I was intrigued by the multi-cultural aspect of the story and wondered how the author would handle it.  I think there’s a tendency to Anglicize the heroine/s not long after they fall in love with their American hero – at the very least, they immediately think he’s the most handsome thing they ever laid eyes on.  Huiann didn’t fall in love, lust or understanding with Alan for a while.  She appreciated him for what he did for her because she understood the risk he was taking, but she still had an air of cultural superiority about her at first.  She thought he was coarse and his belongings were inferior to hers.  Conversely, Alan thought she was exquisite – he’d been captivated by her on the docks and when she’d run into his store, dumbfounded.  Now that she’s in his home, he’s trying to put her at ease any way he can even though he doesn’t really understand any of her customs.  They spend a lot of time talking to each other, even though neither has a clue what the other is saying, pouring out their pain over their pasts.

Because of their language barrier and cultural divide, Huiann and Alan spent some time avoiding their attraction for each other. It adds so much when they do make love because they do it with almost no words – can I also say how refreshing it is when the uh, fireworks go off one at a time because someone makes an effort to light the second fuse after the first one goes off?  Again with the not having to speak to communicate thing.  Their love story was sweet and romantic – rather flowery from Huiann’s point of view – it’s everything you’d imagine a story with a princess and handsome hero would be.

I did have a couple of issues.  Alan was a Union soldier who was injured at the beginning of the war and sent to the horrific Andersonville prison camp.  It’s mentioned in the beginning of the story to explain why Alan settled so far west – his family’s in New Hampshire – and why he’s plagued by nightmares.  There are a few other mentions, and that’s it.  It’s too weighty of an issue to belong in a book alongside the issue of the Chinese sex trade.  It should be one or the other in my opinion.  I also think it was unlikely that Lui would have given up looking for Huiann so quickly the day she disappeared into the marketplace, given her worth to Xie.  It was a little thing, but it bothered me for a while.

My Summary: Huiann remains uniquely Chinese for the entire story – something I was so relieved to read.  Aside from a few western mannerisms she needed to adapt, she didn’t get the Anglo-treatment.  She still didn’t speak a lot of English and Alan didn’t speak more than a word or two of Chinese.  Your mileage my vary about whether you think their relationship would be as publicly acceptable as it seemed, given the time (late 1880’s), but for some romantic escapism, this works on a nice scale.

My Rating: B –

Barbara

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