The Yakuza Path: Blood Stained Tea – Amy Tasukada
A bloody past haunts him. A devastating present calls him back…
Nao hides from his violent past in the Japanese mob by opening a teahouse in Japan’s cultural center, Kyoto. His past comes flooding back when he discovers a gravely injured man with a tattooed chest, a bloody knife, and a Korean business card.
Saehyun would’ve died if not for Nao’s help. He knows nothing of his savior’s connection with the local mafia, but Saehyun has his own secrets. He commands the Korean mafia, the mortal enemy of Nao’s former syndicate.
As Nao and Saehyun grow closer, so does the strength of the Korean mob. A shocking murder pulls Nao back into a past he’d all but abandoned. War is looming, and Nao must choose between protecting Saehyun or avenging the honor of his old mafia family.
Most of the time, you can tell when an Asian themed book is written by a westerner for westerners by how, for the lack of a better word, “touristy” it is. While Japanese authors like Higashino Keigo or Minato Kanae would just write about deceptively normal, everyday things without feeling the need to showcase the cultural aspects, a western author usually goes out of their way to highlight customs foreigners usually associate with Japan such as geisha, samurai, yakuza and the likes, to keep that exotic Japanese vibe going. Which is why, I am always wary of western authors writing about Asian stuff for a western audience
Some authors can pull it off very well. For example, Trash by Andy Mulligan did a great job portraying third world street kids without going through the usually stereotypes. I could tell Mulligan really spent a lot of time with them because at one point, the story mentioned that these kids had a certain smell that marked them as street kids even after they bathed. This is very, very true. Kids living on the streets had a distinct tangy, rusty, earthy smell that remains even if they’re clean.
In the first book of The Yakuza Path series, Blood Stained Tea, Amy Tasukada did the usual touristy tour of Kyoto (shrines, festivals, yukata) then topped it with generous servings of anime and BL sauce starting with that opening scene of saving an abandoned person in the rain, then moving on to The Fever and The Porridge, teasing the cat with a feather toy trick, floppy hair hiding the eyes maneuver, the “I can’t say it yet” hesitance, meek man with berserker alter ego and much, much more. Go see for yourself, play a game of catch that trope and see how many you can find. The only thing missing is an actual description saying Nao looks like a girl but “Nao is a girl’s name” comes close. The writing, characters and plot are amateurish but I found it amusing. Saehyun and Nao behaved like adolescent boys in their first love affair instead of hardened mafia members. Funnily enough, Nao didn’t get along with the most sensible characters of the book, Sakai, the lawyer and Takeo, the reluctant bodyguard who had to be killed off.
The simplistic and naive dealings of our couple went on for about 80% of the book (i’m trying to avoid the word but yeah, they were both stupid as in the smart guys who should know better than to fuck up and/or fuck kind of stupid) until finally, finally, FINALLY! Nao got his shit together then went on his badass shadow assassin mode, discovered his inner god and wrecked havoc worthy of Kenshin Himura in battousai rage. That safehouse scene was worth the 300+ pages of protagonist blunder and anime rip off. Yes, we get the much awaited “suki desu” moment but no, you’re not going to be happy about it. It’s not that kind of romance story. In addition, for me, it counts in the novel’s favor that it is shounen ai. Although the language is explicit and there’s blood and gore, the smexy scenes get a fade out treatment.
Overall, it’s not the most well-executed or sophisticated of gay yakuza romance dramas but well… a fujoshi wrote it, a fujoshi might like it.
P.S. I haven’t read light novels but this must be what light novels are like.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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