I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
This post was an absolute bear to write. I'm not sure why, since I even had decent notes that covered pretty much everything I wanted to write. I just had a hard time putting those notes into reasonably coherent and mostly organized paragraphs. I'd have abandoned the whole thing, except I liked the book enough that I wanted to make sure there was a mention of it on my blog. Plus, the cover image is pretty.
Anyway, the first half of this book really grabbed me. I read a good chunk of Captive Bride in just one day. Huiann was a great heroine – although she had grown up relatively sheltered and suddenly found herself in a very bad situation, she didn't completely fall apart. Instead, she did her best to survive, kept her head, and waited for a chance to get free. Even when she was captured again later in the book and there was a greater possibility someone (Alan) would come for her, she didn't wait to be saved, but rather looked for opportunities to save herself.
I really enjoyed the parts of the book where Alan and Huiann were still getting to know each other and gradually becoming more comfortable with living together. Although they didn't speak each other's languages at first, they still managed to get by. They even managed to benefit from the language barrier – they felt more free to confess their fears to each other, knowing that the exact meaning of their words wouldn't be understood and yet gaining comfort from being able to finally say things they could never say to anyone else. Alan spoke of the horrible, lasting effect being in a Civil War prison camp had had on him, while Huiann spoke of her anger at her parents for sending her to marry a man they had never met.
Although Huiann wasn't technically Alan's prisoner, she was limited in what she could do or where she could go – any time she went out in public, she risked being spotted by Xie or one of his men. Although Alan enjoyed just having her around, I liked that he understood her need to have something to do, particularly something that was truly useful. Her dressmaking filled up her time and challenged her, as she tried to work out how to copy expensive designs. It also gave her a chance to earn money, since Alan refused to take all of the profits. When her talents began to be more in demand, she was able to help her friend Dora out by enlisting her help – working with Huiann allowed Dora to earn a little money for herself that the abusive drunk she lived with didn't have complete access to.
In addition to having to deal with being cooped up a lot, Huiann understandably experienced some homesickness. I loved the gifts Alan purchased for her, a few small Chinese items he thought might remind her of home and give her some comfort. Although none of the book's events took place in China, Dee was still able to work in Chinese cultural details. Huiann's love for and closeness to her family were clear, and I admit to both hoping that she would be able to see them again and dreading the possibility, since, if she went back, it was highly unlike she'd ever be able to see Alan again.
For some reason, I didn't find the second half of the book to be quite as good as the first. Part of my problem, I think, was that, even with Huiann gaining a few slight freedoms here and there, the book began to feel a bit claustrophobic after a while. Every time Alan left to attend parties or speak to people in order to further build up his political career, I worried more and more about Huiann, who seemed destined to become Alan's dirty little secret. The one thing that kept me from disliking Alan and his part in this was that he, too, worried about Huiann and felt guilty about the position he was putting her in. It also helped that Huiann was aware of some of the obstacles standing between her and Alan and knew full well that she might be making a mistake she'd have to pay for later.
Dee did manage to give Huiann and Alan a happy ending, but it wasn't all kittens and rainbows – there was a definite recognition of the fact that their chosen path would have bumps along the way. However, Dee managed to make me believe that, whatever their future might hold, Alan and Huiann would be able to weather it. They were strong individuals and, at the same time, a solid couple.
Some additional comments I wanted to make but couldn't quite find room for (which probably contributed to the weeks it took me to write this post):
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)