Dee, Bonnie. Captive Bride (2011). 300 Pages*. Carina Press. $4.69
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.
Clouds were painted on the flat blue-gray sky, not even a gull disturbing the barren heavens. From great black stacks, ribbons of white billowed behind the rapidly moving ship. Although the steamer cut steadily through the waves, it seemed it wasn’t moving at all– as though Huiann would spend the rest of her life standing on this deck, waiting for her new life to begin.
When she imagined meeting her husband for the first time, she wavered between nervous anticipation and wrenching fear. Was he handsome, ugly, old, young? Would he treat her gently and listen to her thoughts or expect her to keep silent about her ideas as she tended his house? She hadn’t been allowed to ask such questions when her parents announced she was to be a bride.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this, but as the story unfolded, it became clear that this story was better than I had expected. It’s a romance, so it’s about finding love (in this case, interracial love when that wasn’t allowed), but it’s also about finding friendship, acceptance, and a home.
Alan came to San Francisco to escape his past, and the dark memories which haunted him. It hasn’t worked too well, but he keeps hoping that will change. He has, however, done well enough for himself that he runs his own store, and lives above it. His life changes when a beautiful Chinese girl ducks into his shop, obviously hiding from someone, though she doesn’t know enough English to ask for help. Being a good guy, he hides her, and offers her a job as a housekeeper in exchange for a place to hide.
Huiann doesn’t know what to make of this strange man. The language and culture barriers between them keep things tense and awkward, but it’s clear to her early on that Alan is a good man. So she stays. And finds herself becoming more and more attracted to him as time goes on. It inevitably grows into a friendship, and then into something else entirely.
One of the biggest hurdles for Huiann and Alan is the language barrier; Huiann doesn’t know English, and Alan doesn’t know Mandarin. Nor does he know anything about her culture, though he tries to learn. I was a bit dubious at first, because the linguistic/cultural barrier problem is all too often botched, as authors use devices of convenience to rush the relationship. That didn’t happen here; Huiann struggles to learn English, and Alan tries to help her. In fact, their inability to communicate with each other leads to one of my favorite scenes as they take advantage of each other’s lack of understanding to confess difficult things to each other.
The romance was sweet, building slowly enough that it didn’t feel like a whirlwind, yet never dragging so much that it felt slow. That is to say, it was well paced for the page count, and I feel like it was handled well enough. It’s clear from early on that Alan is interested in Huiann, but it takes a while for her to become interested in him, which works.
Overall, I’d say it’s earned a 4/5. It’s not fine literature (most of what I read isn’t) but it was a good read, with good writing, and an interesting plot. (Plus, they didn’t completely botch San Francisco.) If you like historical romances, I’d suggest this one.
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Disclosure: I received a free review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
* It is officially 75,600 words, which is about 300 pages at 250 words/page. It’s a digital-only book, so there isn’t a print page-count.