I thought the idea of a book set against the backdrop of the Victorian Great Exhibition involving an English Earl and a Japanese Entertainer at the Exhibit was unique and I wanted to read it. The story grabbed me from the beginning with the exotic fan dance scene and the mystery of Hana’s circumstances.
This one is not listed as a sequel to my knowledge, but in truth it is a follow-up/parallel story to Never Too Late about Skyler’s cousin. The two books have connections, but this one can definitely be read as a standalone story.
The story opens with Skyler, the new Earl of Ridgemont being named a Royal Commissioner for the Great Exhibition with his duties being to make sure the exhibitors are all on the up and up. He receives word that one of the Asian acts does not appear to have been contracted so he goes to investigate. He arrives in time to observe a beautiful mysterious woman perform a breath-taking fan dance. Across the space between them, he feels a strong connection when their gazes meet. When he goes to the backstage area to question her about her act and her manager, she has disappeared and in her place is a boy with a smudged face and tattered clothes without the ability to speak English.
Hanako Sumaki is concerned about the arrival of this observant, yet kind Englishman who seems very interested in her act. Because of the nature of her master’s shady business, she cannot afford for him to learn anything more. He is persistent, but not in the way of most men who want her. He seems genuinely concerned each time they meet and it drives her to confide more than she wishes to him and desire to be near him though that can go nowhere.
Skyler can’t figure out the woman who has bewitched him. He knows she is hiding so much and she is a great deal more than she seems. She is bright, well-informed, cultured and patient in the face of ignorance. Not that he misses that spark in her eyes and stiffening of her spine when she does hear crushing words and remarks from his fellow Englishman. As gentle and caring as he is with Hana, she still insists in keeping him outside her trust and won’t let him help until Sky figures out what is going on and then he takes matters into his own hands.
Sky and Hana are drawing closely together, but Hana can’t trust that his feelings are constant or that he will hold up under peer pressure. She has taken care of herself and others for so long. Sky has to decide if he is strong enough to go up against Society, against family expectation and against Hana’s own stubbornness.
The plot on this one was a complicated forbidden romance that managed to convey what it was like for an interracial romance that also had the difficulty of class issues too. The balance of historical backdrop and the plot was good. The story was at the forefront, but details were there to fill in the gaps and paint a richer picture. The plot is very much romance-driven though there are spikes of action. The first two-thirds are better paced than the latter third it never gets boring. There is a sort of waiting time for the dust to settle and people to establish a new normal after all that came before that which slowed stuff down. I was mostly impatient just because I really liked the couple and wanted them to have their chance, but it totally made sense that things couldn’t be rushed because of the nature of the barriers.
As to the main players, Hana was written in such away that she was all mystery at first and slowly her secrets are revealed a bit at a time. Even with getting her as one of the narrators, she keeps so much back until later. Her story kept me so fascinated throughout the book. Her background makes her see things from a totally different perspective from Sky and she is so suspicious of him at first. That being said, she knew he was a good man. She only really disappointed me once when she came at Sky hard for him to take her, he hesitated to take up what she was offering, but eventually he gave in when she begged and then she threw it up in his face when she had regrets and guilt. Her reasons made sense and she was experiencing a near crisis at the time so I let it go. But yeah, regret or not, when you did the seducing, you own it in my book.
As to Sky, he is Hana’s opposite completely in that he is open, hopeful, and trusting. He didn’t see love coming, but he didn’t deny it. I was so impressed that his love was so strong and confident that not once did he take the easy way out and offer her anything less than marriage. He totally valued her as his equal.
All in all, I really enjoyed my first time reading this author’s books, the unique storyline of this historical and its inter-racial romance. I definitely plan to go back to the first one for Devin and Honoria’s story that I have sitting on my Kindle waiting for an opportune moment.
I would recommend this one for those who like slightly spicy Historical Romance particularly set in the Victorian period.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for an honest review.
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