Tokoyo Ink by Ann Vremont
Shimizu ~ the once-glittering glass pyramid in the middle of Tokyo Bay that housed a million people ~ is now a crumbling super-prison owned by Iyashii Corporation. Tetsu Hogosha’s mother was caught in the city’s conversion. In a criminal system where the care and feeding of a child adds time to the mother’s crime, she signed him away to be an Iyashii bond employee as her only chance at freedom.
Now Tetsu is a free man and head of Iyashii’s security forces for the country. But he has a secret sideline that might one day break Iyashii’s hold on Shimizu. For months, he has watched the male dancer serving Iyashii’s executive tea room. Tetsu knows every flawless movement the male geisha will make, from tea ceremony, to fan dance, to the slow revelation of his naked, tattooed flesh before he takes the executives, alone or in pairs, into the bedroom suite adjoining the tea room to satisfy their every desire.
For just as long, Tetsu has tried to convince himself he watches his unwitting accomplice only to record the secret messages embedded in the tattoos’ design. But when Iyashii sends its top assassin after the male geisha, Tetsu is faced with the cold hard choice of protecting the message and its secret language at all costs or rescuing the one man capable of challenging his loyalties.
This short novella (only 60 pages) opened my eyes to a potential new author. The story itself is too complex and filled with possibility to really develop in the short space allotted but the great world building and fascinating urban fantasy setting caught my attention and held it throughout the book. Tight writing and intriguing characters keep the action moving swiftly, allowing the quick paced industrial intrigue to shine over the few sex scenes. The relationship development is sacrificed for the storyline and in this case, helped the tale. Although I would have liked this to be a longer, more fully realized story – as a short offering, this entertains.
Set in Japan in a time when industry has taken over the government and imposed some odd laws, Tetsu is struggling to mount a revolution. The world building is very intricate and offers a lot of detail, yet there still seems to be so much more that was omitted and not included. The companies ruling the country are only loosely identified beyond the main culprit of Iyashii. The revolutionaries are equally mysterious as Tetsu is the only character introduced. While this does help in not overwhelming the story with too many unimportant characters, it leaves one essential theme of the book (the revolution) very under defined. The vast network and computer resources included are hinted at and often included in between lulls in action, but there is little understanding offered.
For example, how Tetsu hacked into so many companies and their computer systems as well as how he amassed the seeming underground army he has. Was he recruited or did he start the revolution himself? Other than the downfall of the corporation responsible for enslaving his mother, what were his goals and motivations? What did Tetsu envision once this revolution had occurred? If the twist with Gabe, the male geisha, had not occurred – what was Tetsu planning? All of these questions and so many more are raised in the short story. Although none of these are answered, the engaging quality of writing and fascinating world drew me into the tale nonetheless.
The characters are briefly outlined and given hints here and there as their instant relationship develops. The story is told mostly from Tetsu’s point of view in third person until the very end where Gabe’s point of view is shown in the last few scenes. Unfortunately this doesn’t give much more depth to either character but shows the actions both men take. Their relationship is based on mutual lust and later, shared goals, which doesn’t account for the supposed heavy emotion displayed. However, this is a small quibble as the story is a romance so the connection is expected, even if not quite successful. The erotic scenes between the two are brief and interesting but the action scenes are the most dynamic of the short story.
Some of the writing is slightly disjointed as there are leaps in time and story line that aren’t well described. The story moves incredibly quick and helps with dialogue and descriptions that engage and entertain, but there are some definite holes. However, even with those problems this is a fun, interesting new world with characters that show the dark side very well. The ending leaves so much room for more I can only hope the author will revisit this story line in the future. For fans of hard hitting urban fantasy, this is worth looking into.
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