Anyway, this book is problematic as fuck, in case you couldn't tell from the rapey looking man of color holding the scimitar to the white lady's throat on this romance cover. I wanted to cringe and write an apology letter to someone just for looking at that art. It felt like my eyeballs were committing a hate crime. WHO APPROVED THAT IMAGERY, BTW? It literally never happens in the book and I almost feel like someone is trolling.
Anyway, this book is set in India. Which, points for not making up a fake country that we all know is India and then pretending that cultural appropriation isn't a thing. I've read way too many sheikh romances that treat the Middle East like window dressing and it's gross. This book is actually set in Rajapur and it talks a little about the local markets, the textiles, the booming IT and tech industry, and how colonialism caused many prestigious to fall to ruin after the economic collapse. Which, wow. I actually thought that was nice. Especially since this is based off a Penny Jordan book and Jordan is one of those old skool Harlequin Presents novelists that aren't exactly known for being PC.
Major PC points off, though, for making the Indian lead a dick. He spends most of the book talking about how women only want him for money and calling the heroine a prostitute. I guess his family are descended from the maharaja of the area before the nobility kind of ceased to be a thing and they went into business instead. But whoops, it turns out the heroine is actually the interior designer he hired on to decorate his mansion and he's humiliated for like half a second before he's like HEY BE MY MISTRESS WHILE YOU'RE WORKING FOR ME. And the heroine is like okay. Because, you know, confidence. But then he finds out she's a virgin and he thinks she's the Honeypot Avenger and he is PISSED because obviously she's just trying to venus flytrap a wedding ring onto his finger by using her vagina.
There's a sob story about how the heroine's mom was a prostitute who got into booze and drugs and died of disease and this would be touching if she didn't call her mother a "dirty woman" and refer to herself as a "dirty woman" while she's with Jay. Also-- AND I KNOW THIS WILL SHOCK YOU-- Jay has mommy issues too because his mom was a mistress to his father, who was also a douche, and it was his older brother Rao who took him in off the streets and raised him like the dad he basically never had. (We stan Rao, btw. He is the rare Nice Brother who doesn't do anything dickish like trying to rape the heroine (see one of the last Harlequin manga I've read) and he dresses up as Santa to his dickbag brother's costume party. WE STAN RAO.)
This is the struggle with reading bodice-rippers and Harlequin Presents books. Sometimes you read a book and your feminism is like NO NO NO and your inner trash can is like BUT ALSO YES. FOUR STARS BECAUSE THEY FELL IN LOVE. And then you slam down the lid so you can't hear your feminist self saying, "Internalized misogyny, what?" because you save that shit for Twitter when you decide to engage in online arguments with assholes who want to shut down abortion clinics.*
* No, I'm not projecting.**
** JK, I totally am
Also, NOT THAT THIS HAD ANY BEARING ON MY RATING***, but this is one of the most graphic HQN manga I've read in terms of sex scenes. It really went for that spice jar with both hands.
*** Double JK, we stan the spice jar
4 out of 5 stars