Thumbs up for Flowers at Night by Lucy May Lennox. Historical romance.
This is historical romance with an emphasis on the historical. If you told me these characters were real people in mid-19th century Edo, I’d believe you; they are perfectly human but not modern. To me, that’s a plus; it makes this book intensely interesting. The love story here is between a good-hearted but slightly clueless samurai – in a time when a samurai was lucky if he could get a job as a bookkeeper for the Shogunate – and a handsome blind masseur (not a euphemism; he really does give massages). But also, the samurai’s wife and her maid/lover are important characters, because this isn’t the story you’re expecting: it’s much better. I coincidentally just read a nonfiction history set in this exact time and place, and that makes me no kind of expert, but I can say that there’s not a single jarring anachronism to throw me out of the story. To be clear, it’s not a romantic romance (though it does have a happy ending) so if you are looking for swooniness, steer clear. But, if you would like an engrossing travel back in time plus a love story with unexpected character dynamics, I can’t recommend this one more highly.
On that day in question, a group of gaudily dressed young women lounged indolently outside a teahouse called the Peony Pavilion. Like all fashionable ladies, they had blackened their teeth, painted their skin white, and shaved their eyebrows, replaced with two black smudges high on their foreheads. Their thick, oiled hair was held up with an elaborate series of combs in the high shimada chignon, and the brocade sashes of their kimono tied in front announced to the world that they were ladies of easy virtue. But as this was not the great Yoshiwara pleasure district, but merely the town of Sawaka, several days’ travel north and east of Edo, they could not aspire to the lofty ranks of oiran or courtesan. In short, they were common whores, although like their betters in Edo, they had styled themselves with poetic names: Tsunehachi, Konoito, and Agemaki.
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