The first two thirds of this were better than I expected. The writing wasn't great, and details about English culture tended to be clumsily inserted, but the translation was fairly smooth and easy to follow. There were only a couple instances of misused commas and confusing pronoun usage. The premise was silly, but I was fine with that. Then one particular scene happened, and it ruined everything.
Edward, an English nobleman, is in a bind. If he doesn't get married before he turns 26, he'll lose control of the family estate and fortune. He doesn't actually mind this, because he figures his cousin Gordon (who'll get control of everything) will take care of him. However, others are planning on forcing him to get married, so he concocts a plan. He'll find the woman to whom he gave the family ring, pay her to marry him just long enough for him to secure his inheritance, and then pay her to divorce him. The situation becomes more complicated when he learns that the woman has already died and left the ring in the hands of Satsuki, a Japanese theater student. Eventually, Edward convinces Satsuki to dress as a woman and pretend to be his fiancee, in exchange for the equivalent of $600 a day.
Edward spent the first 40 or so pages of this book drunk – I kept picturing him with bloodshot eyes, which made it hard to think of him as “noble” and “gorgeous.” His alcoholism was explained as being a result of his boredom and bitterness. Growing up, his parents rarely showed him affection, and money could buy him everything he wanted but not what he really needed. Basically, sad little rich kid.
Satsuki wasn't all that much better. In high school, he had a supposed friend named Yohei. He talked to Yohei about theater, but only because Yohei was there and willing to listen. Then Yohei got accepted to Satsuki's dream acting school, while Satsuki was rejected. Satsuki could have applied again later, but his pride wouldn't let him accept the possibility of being Yohei's junior when he believed he was better at acting than Yohei. He cut all ties with Yohei, left his family behind, and went to London to study theater instead. This was not the best plan ever, and Satsuki soon found himself desperately in need of money.
The setup was kind of silly, and it was never satisfactorily explained why Edward couldn't just find another woman for the role of his fake fiancee. Something about “a woman might not be willing to go through with the divorce in the end”? Only Satsuki's cross-dressing could save the day! What luck that he'd had some practice with it, since, in Japan, the other theater students had always made him play the girl parts.
There were a few nice scenes. I enjoyed it when Satsuki passive aggressively struck back at Edward by telling him his full name, in Japanese order, rather than making it easy for him and telling him to call him “May,” the nickname he'd been going by since coming to England (although Akitsu went a little overboard with the whole “Japanese names are hard for English people to pronounce” bit). Edward and Satsuki had a few nice dates, and there was one reasonably sexy scene in which Edward and Satsuki practiced kissing so that they could look natural together.
This would probably have been a “meh, it was okay” read, except for one particular scene. It's a spoiler, but I feel I need to talk about it in more detail in order to explain why this story soured for me.
Edward and Satsuki were both at a party. Edward was off somewhere else, and a woman who wanted to marry Edward dumped a glass of wine on Satsuki's dress. Not wanting to walk around with a soiled dress, Satsuki stayed by the sidelines and got invited to dance on the balcony by another loner. Edward saw them together, became jealous, and led Satsuki away. Edward started drinking, and then he raped Satsuki when Satsuki came by to see him later. Most of the scene was on-page, and both characters were very clear about what had happened – the word “rape” is actually used in the text.
Edward was ashamed of and horrified by what he'd done. Satsuki was willing to continue their charade, for reasons that didn't quite make sense to me, but, in private, he was cold towards Edward and ignored him as much as possible. Things continued this way until Satsuki suddenly decided he loved Edward. They got married according to plan, Satsuki admitted his feelings, and then they had sex. While they were having sex, Satsuki had a rape flashback. Rather than stop when Satsuki tried to pull away, Edward kept going, because of course it was okay since Satsuki had said he loved him. The ending was dumb, with Edward deciding to give up his fortune and live with Satsuki (how were they planning on supporting themselves?!), but I was still stuck on the rape.
I don't know why Akitsu did things this way. It would have been an okay romance with a stupid ending, otherwise. Instead, it was a badly fumbled romance with a stupid ending.
One color illustration and six black-and-white illustrations. None of them feature explicit sex. There is also an afterword, in which the author writes about visiting London.
Sorry, no yaoi novels in this read-alikes list. I haven't read enough to know what would be appropriate to list, but I did think of some other works with aspects that might appeal to fans of A Promise of Romance.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- My Fair Concubine (book) by Jeannie Lin - This is m/f, not m/m, but it might still work for those who'd like a "pretend" element to their romance. The heroine is a tea girl who must learn how to act like a lady. I've written about this book.
- Princess Princess (manga) by Mikiyo Tsuda; Princess Princess (anime TV series) - In this series, three boys pretend to be girls at their all boys' school. Everyone knows about it - their cross-dressing is supposed to improve the morale of the student body. It's a silly series and might appeal to those who'd like something else featuring cross-dressing guys. No romance, though, unless you count the hints of something between Tohru and Shihoudani. I've written about volume 1 of the manga.
- Earl and Fairy (manga) by Mizue Tani, illustrated by Ayuko - This has lots of supernatural elements and features m/f romance, but those who liked Edward (at least before That Scene) might like Edgar, a flirtatious, charming earl (eventually). I haven't read the manga yet, although I own it. I've written about the anime (which I think still hasn't been licensed).