Little Japan by Jaye Valentine and Reno MacLeod
Japan. Land of honor and beauty, crowded streets with neon signs, and exotic markets where ancient traditions still hold fast in modern-day society. As Japanese business people rush about their busy lives, there exists a place in Osaka, Japan where a modern take on the ancient tradition of the geisha thrives.
Kuri and Daichi work at Kingyo Club, a popular host club in the Dōtonbori district of Osaka. After sleeping their days away, the boys’ nights are owned by the host club lifestyle and anyone willing to pay the steep price for a few hours of hard drinking and flirtatious companionship. Kuri and Daichi are lovers and best friends, and along with their roommates Sora and Takumi, they look out for one another in an occupation fraught with both physical and emotional danger.
In addition to the endless bottles of fizzy champagne, expensive gifts, and confessions of false love courtesy of regular clients, every now and then comes a customer with even deeper pockets and much darker demands. Gabriel Hartley is one of these men. After a chance meeting, Gabriel targets the stunning Kuri to feed his obsession with seducing and dominating young Japanese men.
The relationship between Kuri and Gabriel dramatically changes when a traumatic event plunges them from the Land of the Rising Sun into the land of powerful sheikhs and servant boys in the dark underworld of exotic Dubai. As Kuri struggles with the heartache of having what’s most precious to him ripped away, he helps Gabriel learn important lessons about love, honor, and the power of self-forgiveness.
[Just give up now. This has to be one of the best, most delicious covers ever. The artist is amazing as she got SO many details into that picture. We all hate the red band I know but take that off and the picture could go on a wall. You can read the review, I’m still looking at the cover.]
Valentine and Macleod like to push boundaries and Little Japan is no exception. This has to be the first in a series considering such a large cast and one that I’m curious to see where it will go. For this offering, it’s good but went areas I didn’t particularly like for part of the book. Here the story pushes some sexual boundaries, nothing especially horrifying or out there, but the concept of non-consensual slavery and sexual cruelty is very present. The story blurs the lines of consent in both an uncomfortable and incredibly skillful way. Very well written but not always fun to read, Little Japan is an interesting book.
The story is about four roommates and best friends – Kuri, Daichi, Sora, and Takumi – that live, work, and play together. They work as host boys in Osaka, a job where young, beautiful boys stay up all night until dawn, drinking and partying with customers. They are paid exorbitant sums to simply talk and drink and some may pay even more money to have sex with the stunning young men. The four close friends are balancing a life of money, excess, and hard work when Kuri is bought for a night by an extremely rich and haunted American named Gabriel. When Gabriel’s intensity scares Kuri, he runs back to the safety of Daichi’s arms. But when Daichi is kidnapped and sold to a Dubai Sheik’s harem, Kuri needs both Gabriel and Sora’s help to get his friend and lover back.
The opening introduces the four young men and Gabriel. Set in the heat and humidity of Osaka, the beginning delves into the nighttime world of host boys in Japan. This beginning is fascinating and definitely my favorite part of the book. The four young men are best friends and casual lovers although deeper connections are shown with Kuri and Daichi and Sora and Takumi. Even so, their work often has them having sex with customers so casual sex is a common and accepted quality. The four boys have sex with each other too for comfort, companionship, and simple horniness. When Gabriel purchases Kuri’s time, sex included, the two form an uneasy bond – one that scares both men. Unfortunately there is no time to dwell on this aspect as the story takes a turn when Daichi is kidnapped and sold to a sheik’s harem. The richness of the Osaka landscape comes alive with vivid detail and a very interesting culture. The vampire-ish world of pale boys who drink massive amounts of champagne and sell companionship in all forms is told in rich description with edgy nuances. The complicated relationships and friendships leap off the page just as the young men show complexity in their youthfulness, horniness, and a glimpse behind the façade.
The story then moves to the heat of Dubai and focuses on the sexual cruelty perpetuated on Daichi and several other young men within the confines of the sheik’s private harem. Kuri, Gabriel, and Sora race to rescue Daichi but this takes time. This part of the story is very well crafted with a lot of subtly and detail. Unfortunately it is also filled with a lot of erotica. In fact the story as a whole is incredibly erotic with more sex scenes than I think I’ve seen from the authors. With the plot shift to Dubai, the entire world is made up of sexual desire, need, acts, and repercussions. So while the scenes are not necessarily gratuitous, there are a lot and several push the boundaries of consent. The acts within the harem are not violent physical rape but they walk a very fine line that may make several readers uncomfortable. The boys don’t want to be where they are but soon learn to make the best of it and disassociate mentally from what’s happening. Unfortunately since this makes up a little over half of the book, I soon tired of all the sexual cruelty. It’s not over the top and in fact fits well with the themes but I simply became uncomfortable with the mental and emotional toll this captivity was having on the various young men.
Additionally there are several, almost too many, storylines going on. Due to the vast cast, including two young men from the harem that become very important, the story struggles to give them all the space and time they deserve. While the pace is quick and the narrative absorbing and interesting on many levels, the space provided simply can’t give all of the men equal depth. Kuri is the best well characterized as the third person narrator with his almost nymphomaniac need for sex but clearly devoted to Daichi. Kuri is also very young and immature in some ways, often equating sex with safety and security. He’s a complicated character with surprising hints of jealousy and strength. He kept me wondering what he’d do next and how he’d act. His relationship to Daichi is the main romance of the book but almost the least important storyline. They are an established, in love couple and actually spend the majority of the book apart and yearning for each other. It’s really the relationships these two have with others that shine much more than their understated romance.
Gabriel is an another complicated, flawed character and the story reinforces his sexual addiction heavily. He is wealthier than God but works due to a fascination and love of his job. His sexual fetish for young, Asian men of a certain type is played up quite a bit, to the point of Gabriel’s severe self hatred. I struggled with this aspect since his sexual addiction didn’t come across as all consuming. In the heady world of sex and sensuality where everyone is having sex, it seemed normal to me that Gabriel would desire so as well. He clearly struggles to keep a tight reign of control over his addiction which adds a layer of much needed complexity to the man, but Gabriel’s shame feels exaggerated sometimes. However his relationship to Kuri is intense and complicated while his pseudo happy ending is nice to see.
Overall the book is well written with a lot of complex characters and situations. The high level of erotica and sexuality depicted is surprising and edges into uncomfortable areas for me; although this is a highly subjective reaction. Of all the young men introduced, I adored Sora the most and hope this innocent, cute young man with a core of strength gets his own book while the broken sex slave in Zahriah also deserves a happy ending. With a solid plot and incredibly fast pace to the writing, this quick read will make you think. Hopefully future books in the series will get back to what I personally loved the most – the host club atmosphere of Osaka. There is still a wealth of possibility in that fascinating world and I hope the authors revisit that rather than the non-consensual sex slave trade. Check this out, it’ll leave you thinking.
Get it HERE!