Title: Yakuza Pride (The Way of the Yakuza Series #1)
Author: H. J. Brues
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com Yakuza Pride
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance/Mystery/Suspense
Length: 350 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Guest Review by Raine
Summary Review: The setting is a socially complicated Tokyo where two amazing men call the world well lost for love, but only after passion, power plays and an excess of pain.
Blurb: When yakuza underboss Shigure Matsunaga meets Kenneth Harris at a boring social event, he’s surprised to find himself attracted to the blond gaijin with the mismatched eyes. Shigure is even more pleased when he discovers Ken not only speaks Japanese fluently, but is fluent in Japan’s ways, even the more violent of the martial arts. Ken’s expertise at kendo is not his most striking quality—it’s the passion beneath his quiet, almost fragile exterior that ignites Shigure’s lust, and the two come together as explosively as they spar.
Shigure is a dangerous man in a dangerous position. He’s been trying to keep the peace with the Daito-kai—his hated rivals—but the danger on the streets is escalating, threatening those Shigure most wants to protect. He may claim to love his gaijin, but before he can keep Ken safe, Shigure will have to overcome hostility from his people, a hidden enemy, and, the most insidious opponent of all, his own hard-won pride.
The Way of the Yakuza Series
I loved the majority of this book. It has a huge impact; dramatically romantic, an amazingly evoked setting, with a fast action, violent, story. It deals with pride, honour, family, sexual possession and love, while using effective, moving language, metaphors and symbolism. Indeed, with no little finesse, the yakuza tattoo comes to stand for much of what is most moving here. Emotionally operatic, and on occasion referencing Madame Butterfly in more ways than one, H. J. Brues has gone all out for intensity.
Her lovers are extravagantly gorgeous. Ken, also known as Kenshin, is American but with his strange quirky and attractive blond Japanese look, is in many ways a displaced person. His artistic talent is a major part of his personality, his best friend Ryu says of him, “You have your head in the clouds half the time and the other half, you’re too busy drawing what you just saw up there.” Very temperamental, he lives in the moment, with a generous passion that is very appealing. Matsungara Shigure is a captain in the Shinayawa- gumi, one of the powerful gangs in Tokyo. Yakuza are regarded as dangerous mobsters. Shigure has fought to make a success of his life, having been born into the worst of conditions. He is proud of his achievement, honourable in his own way, and strong. His instant attraction to the quirky foreigner eventually forces him to completely reevaluate his life.
Their relationship is from the very first meeting intensely felt. Shigure speaks no English and somehow this detail concentrates the intimacy of the initial attraction conducted in Ken’s fluent Japanese. The conversations between these two are throughout the book often both funny and moving. While Shigure, possessive from the outset is determined to mark Ken as his property, he is also confused. This confusion is not about homosexuality, which is accepted in his society, but more about Ken being a foreign distraction. Conflicts arise from Shigure’s inability to believe that Ken really wants to be with him, which involve some heated exhibitionist sexual games of dare and double dare. More importantly, it takes a violent attack to finally resolve Shigure’s other conflict between his desire for Ken, “a freakish gaijin” and his fear of damaging his “badass yakuza reputation.”
There are some lovely scenes in this book. Those between Ken and Shigure are of high impact and drenched in intensity. However the relationship Ken builds with Shigure’s men is carefully dealt with; the descriptions of suburi training and after in the bath house were really good, funny and warm. The men of Shigure’s yakuza family, good, bad and misguided are are nicely imagined individuals. The many minor characters, friends, gang rivals, police are created with depth, detail and back story.
I know nothing about Japanese culture, but the wonderful layers of detail used in this book evoke a complex society imbued with giri — a cross between honour and debt. H. J. Brues’ paints this through Ken’s artist’s eyes, but also uses the Japanese language’s use of honorifics to help portray social structure. There is a broad picture of contemporary Tokyo, but it is the yakuza society, linked to past and present, with stressed inter-gang rivalries that is the main focus. This starts as the background to the passionate affair, but eventually the realities of Shigure’s world viciously rip into Ken’s life. It is when the suspense thread of the story forces itself to the fore that I started to have a few problems with the book.
For it is from here I felt that the the control of this complicated work slips perhaps into melodrama, probably because the rest is such high quality, any drop in standard is felt more acutely. Earlier, this happens in a small way, such as in the use of an inappropriate simile. Kenshin’s eyes are described oddly as like weird planets encircled by shining rings of poisonous gas and that just tears you away from the sex scene that has been beautifully built up. However this is representative of how later difficulties disrupt the integrity of this delicately balanced, imagined world.
It didn’t bother me that I guessed who the bad guy was, and that Shigure’s less-than-fast reasoning here was a little worrying. More troubling was the over-stretching of the action sequences, not only the level of sexual torture which I really felt was far too much, but also the irritating snakes and ladders of almost escape. Then the almost farcical car crash of the rescuers was out of sync with the awfulness of what had happened. Finally the problems with Ken’s move, which caused him more anxiety and pain, seemed totally unnecessary. (Struggling to avoid spoilers here)
Happily, the final part of the book reconciles with earlier excellence. The description of Ken’s recovery is very necessary as part of this reconciliation. Moreover, the continued use of the tattoo as metaphor and reality is really pleasing. Shigure’s pride is finally resolved, he shows moral integrity and his purposeful decisions reinforce Ken’s loyalty towards him. The epilogue — so often frowned upon — was an encore of great fun.
It might seem as if I’ve found a lot wrong with this book, I can only say it didn’t feel like that when I read it. I think it was an ambitious and beautiful concept that for most of the time gave me great pleasure. I think if it had been just for me — I will forgive wonderful characters almost anything — I would give this 5 stars, but I do feel there are some irreconcilable irritations that meant, for the review, I had to keep my feet on the ground. Still for anyone who likes the grand, sometimes bloody, gesture and dramatically intense love this one is recommended.