Huiann is far from thrilled about leaving her family and her home in China to marry a wealthy businessman in San Francisco, but she accepts it as her future. In 1870, there is little other choice for her. So on the ship she goes, but when she arrives, she discovers that, far from marrying her, her supposed bridegroom actually wants to sell her off as a high-class prostitute, calling her a princess and letting a huge variety of men bid on her virginity (after they’ve seen what they’re getting). Horrified, Huiann flees, and runs straight into the shop of Alan Sommers, a white man with whom she can’t even speak. She conveys her desperation somehow and he hides her. Through their rudimentary attempts to communicate and Alan’s efforts to keep her safe, the couple begin to form a bond, and wonder what future there is for a Chinese woman and a white man at this period in history.
This is my first Carina Press book and to be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, so I went in with an open mind. Carina Press is the digital branch of Harlequin, and normally I don’t read too many Harlequins – category romances are generally too short for me to believe in them and a bit more stereotypical. Saying that, I really wanted to try Carina Press, which I know is a bit more daring, and this book sounded really appealing, so I requested it.
Rather than being disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a flawless book and does follow the same old conventional formula (with a little too many racy scenes for my liking, which seems to happen very often), but the romance was sweet and believable with efforts on both sides to communicate and understand. Huiann ends up bridging the gap by learning English, but it’s apparent from the start that she’s a bit cleverer than Alan, who comes across as a loyal, hard-working, but not particularly smart man. It’s also true that she wants to strive for independence in her new world and thus needs to learn the language. I loved as well that she doesn’t immediately learn everything – the language barrier remains to some extent throughout the entire narrative, making things a little more realistic as they communicate through gestures, expressions, and pictures as well as words. Alan genuinely tries to understand her culture and give her the tools to make herself a new home, so I couldn’t really fault him for not learning Chinese.
I also found the story followed a nice arc throughout, mainly centering on the historical reality of Chinese prostitution in California. It wasn’t always illegal for Chinese women to simply be brought over as prostitutes. Huiann doesn’t realize that she is, but she does encounter some other women whose fate seems so grim that it isn’t worth living. When she finds herself in the same situation, she takes it upon herself to not only save these women, but to help them thrive. It’s a sweet story in many respects and reminded me a lot of the historical romances I read as a younger girl that tended to range across more time periods and have a little more history in them, as opposed to the completely ton-focused historical romances I find myself reading now.
In short, Captive Bride was a great start for me and Carina Press and I’m very glad I requested it. Recommended for other romance readers who are looking for a nice quick read which may not rock the boat but is satisfying nonetheless.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.