Alright, so I’m a little late in announcing February’s Book of the Month but I’ve still made it in time for Valentine’s Day! I’ve barely been at home in the evening for the past week, so apologies for the delay. Anyway, as promised, here is The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay.
A big ‘thank you’ to ChocLit for sending me this book to review. This is the second time I have received a book through blogging and I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. I’m not a typical romance bookworm but throw in the words historical and Japan and you have a happy reader.
It’s 1641, and when Midori Kumashiro, the orphaned daughter of a warlord, is told she has to leave Japan or die, she has no choice but to flee to England. Midori is trained in the arts of war, but is that enough to help her survive a journey, with a lecherous crew and an attractive captain she doesn’t trust?
Having come to Nagasaki to trade, the last thing Captain Nico Noordholt wants is a female passenger, especially a beautiful one. How can he protect her from his crew when he can’t keep his own eyes off her?
During their journey, Nico and Midori form a tentative bond, but they both have secrets that can change everything. When they arrive in England, a civil war is brewing, and only by standing together can they hope to survive…
A sequel but very much its own story
The Gilded Fan is actually the sequel to The Scarlet Kimono but, good news, it turns out that it’s not essential to read one before the other. The Scarlet Kimono follows the adventure of Midori’s mother, Anna, who escapes to Japan and falls in love with a daimyo. The Gilded Fan frequently refers to its predecessor, as is to be expected, but both stories are quite independent of each other, which is good news for anyone who happens to pick up the sequel first. Obviously, the main ‘spoiler’ that you immediately glimpse from the plot of The Gilded Fan alone is that Anna indeed married the daimyo and had a child – Midori. There are also a few revelations towards the end of the novel in which we learn what happened to Anna’s family after she started her new life in Japan so, if you are a stickler for chronology, you might want to read The Scarlet Kimono first.
Clash of Cultures
At first, I was surprised that the majority of the novel is set in Plymouth of all places. The story is more or less split into three parts; Midori’s life and sudden departure from Japan, the naval journey to England, and Protestant Plymouth. Needless to say, Plymouth seems like a very dark, solemn and almost lifeless setting in comparison to our first two settings. There is a good reason for this, however, as it puts the reader in Midori’s position. After escaping from the country that she grew up in and loves so much for its culture and beauty, and an exciting voyage where she glimpses other cultures and people, she is finally taken in by the family she is forced to flee to only to be forced to reject so much of her own self. Everything from the clothing to the food and, indeed, religion is grey and miserable and there is a rather sad scene where her uncle orders her to burn her beautiful gilded fan because it ‘tempts’ her young cousin. However, we are given a balanced view of the situation. Midori’s family are not ‘cruel’ but acting in the way that their culture and religion dictate. With the exception of her aunt, who continuously verbally abuses and shuns her, Courtenay allows us to warm to the English characters. This is not a simple black-and-white story of Japan meets England.
The romance is just one part of a very interesting story…
As I mentioned earlier, I consume books like food but I have never really had a great appetite for romance novels. So, imagine my delight when a novel I happen to be reviewing has a good romance scene that is not two-dimensional and that I want to see through to the end. The first half of the novel, in which Midori and Nico meet and travel to England, sees the couple physically together in the same environment, even if they are not quite romantically involved yet. Once Midori arrives in Plymouth, Nico goes his own way and we do not see him for some time for reasons that I will not spoil. This has two effects; it allows the reader to focus on Midori’s integration into English life (which is pretty grim, as you can imagine) and it builds two independent characters who have concerns other than being in love.
Of course, the romance is an important part of the plot but it is not the only part of it, and this is why I enjoyed The Gilded Fan so much. The other characters become more than just peripheral objects around the romance but become an interesting part of the story in their own right. As someone who loves reading in general, I crave a book with a good story and characters and The Gilded Fan delivered on this.
I started the Book of the Month feature because I wanted to share the interesting novels I found with my readers. I can honestly say that I enjoyed The Gilded Fan and am happy to add it to the growing list. I enjoyed the story so much that I will not only be reading The Scarlet Kimono but some of Christina Courtenay’s novels. I whole-heartedly recommend The Gilded Fan to, inevitably, female, readers who are interested in a cross-cultural story. Perhaps it would be wiser to read The Scarlet Kimono first for chronology’s sake but you won’t be lost if you pick up The Gilded Fan first.
Coming this weekend…
As I mentioned the other week, I’ll be at MCM Midlands Comic Con filming for a little fan-made video. If you’re interested in getting involved, check out this post for information on how to find me!