Friday, October 4, 2013

The Aristocrat and the Desert Prince (book) written by Haruhi Tono, illustrated by Ai Hasukawa, English translation by Karen McGillicuddy

The Aristocrat and the Desert Prince is part of Digital Manga Publishing's Juné Yaoi Novels imprint. It's basically a sheikh romance.

Synopsis:

Takeyuki is the youngest son in a wealthy family. He has no clue what he wants to do with his life but knows he's unsatisfied with the idea of taking over his father's company. He asks his parents to allow him to visit Cassina, a country in the Middle East, as his college graduation present, and they reluctantly agree.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Cassina, Takeyuki is warned to be careful – although Cassina is relatively peaceful, kidnappings have been known to happen. So of course Takeyuki wanders off on his own in a marketplace and is promptly kidnapped. He is saved by a mysterious man named Zayid. Although Zayid doesn't seem to want to harm him, he also doesn't want to take Takeyuki back to the Japanese embassy right away. As Takeyuki begins to fall for Zayid, he becomes more uncertain. Does he really want to go back to his family? Would Zayid even want him to stay?

Review:

I've been in something of a reading slump for a while, so I decided to try to break it up with what I figured would be a quick read. I found this at a used bookstore. I haven't had a lot of luck with Digital Manga Publishing's yaoi novels, so I tried to keep my expectations low.

Here are some good things about this book: It was a very quick read. It was mildly entertaining, wondering what stupid thing Takeyuki would do next. Although there was at least one moment when one of the kidnappers considered raping Takeyuki, no rapes occurred. Yay! I was also surprised at how little sex there was and how late in the book the sex happened. In theory, this meant there was lots of time to get to know the characters and see them interact and fall in love.

Unfortunately, neither Takeyuki nor Zayid ever became more than just character types. Takeyuki was spoiled and Too Stupid To Live. He resented being called a child and wanted Zayid to view him as an equal, and yet he constantly did stupid things. For example, after being warned by just about everyone that kidnappings have been known to happen in otherwise peaceful Cassina, Takeyuki wandered off on his own in a marketplace while wearing expensive clothing and a large cross with a diamond in it. Later on in the book, he took off into the desert with only a couple bottles of water, a box of cookies, and no clue how to orient himself.

As if to highlight Takeyuki's stupidity, Zayid was perfect at everything and always confident in his abilities. He was “Inscrutable Hot Guy.” One minute, he was warm, gentle, and kind towards Takeyuki. The next, he was cold and kind of scary. He'd flirt with Takeyuki (yes, right, that's totally how you revive a dehydrated person) and then push him away. It was no wonder Takeyuki couldn't decide what to think of him.

Their romance made little sense. As far as I could tell, the only reason Zayid loved Takeyuki was because he was pretty and needed someone to take care of him. The only reason Takeyuki loved Zayid was because he was hot and occasionally kind. Did they have anything in common besides mutual attraction? Who knows?

The way Takeyuki's attraction to Zayid was handled was extremely annoying. Every single time he noticed how hot Zayid was, how blue his eyes were, etc., those thoughts were followed by some variation of “But how could this be??? We're both men!” In Takeyuki's mind, gay men apparently did not exist. A man who is attracted to another man must be mistaking him for a woman. End of story.

I raised an eyebrow when Takeyuki remembered how, in school, he occasionally allowed the boys who mistook him for a girl to kiss and fondle him. Uhh...first off, I can't help but wonder how many of those boys really thought he was a girl. Second, you'd think those experiences would have given Takeyuki plenty of time to think more deeply about his sexuality. The way he reacted to Zayid, it was like those school experiences happened to someone else. There were no emotions, positive or negative, connected to those memories.

The book's one and only sex scene could have been better if it hadn't included boatloads of vocabulary I don't usually associate with good, fun sex. Words like: dirty, disgusting, humiliating, indignity. The sex was consensual and Takeyuki enjoyed it, but he also seemed to be shamed by it. I'm not a fan of that sort of thing.

This probably goes without saying, but the setting was as stereotypical as the characters. There were a few Arabic words here and there, so somebody (the translator? the author?) maybe did a tiny bit of research, but, for the most part, the Middle East might as well have been a single giant country where lots of bad things happened. Cassina was the best Middle Eastern country in every way. Well, except for its convenient little kidnapping problem.

All in all, while this is not the worst BL/yaoi novel I've read, that's not really saying much.

Extras:

The book includes one color illustration and several black-and-white illustrations. There is also a postscript written by Haruhi Tono.

Read-alikes:
  • The Sheik (book) by E.M. Hull - I think this is maybe the first sheik romance ever, or at least the first popular one. It's way better written than Haruhi Tono's book, but beware: there is rape, and the rapist is also the guy readers are supposed to view as the book's hero. I wanted to stab that guy in the eye. If you'd like more info, my review can be found here.
  • The Desert Prince (manga) by Shushushu Sakurai - As far as I can tell, this is manga, not a novel. It includes four one-shot short stories and, as far as I can tell, only the first one is a sheikh story. It also sounds like this volume is pretty explicit.
  • Better Than a Dream (book) written by Raica Sakuragi, illustrated by Katsumi Asanami - This is the only other halfway decent BL light novel I can remember reading. It's not terribly similar to The Aristocrat and the Desert Prince - I'm including it more as an example of a somewhat better BL light novel, for those who'd like to give them another try. Although there is one instance of rape/near-rape, it didn't happen between the primary couple. All characters are adults, and the writer actually makes an attempt to write them like human beings, rather than just character types. Read my review here.

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