Review: Blood Stained Tea (The Yakuza Path #1) by Amy Takusada

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..

The Yakuza Path: Blood Stained Tea is the first book in a series of Japanese mafia thrillers. If you like complex characters, blood-soaked violence, and twists you won't see coming, then you'll love Amy Tasukada's gritty crime masterpiece.

Aesthetically stunning

I chose this book for two reasons: Yakuza and Japan. I'm enamored by Japan and all the various Japanese customs and traditions. The intricacies of which I don't really understand but I like that their culture seems to value respect and has an innate hierarchy. Also, I like mob stories and mobsters. Truth be told, I tend to gravitate towards characters that are a little bit ruthless, sinister even and perhaps slightly diabolical. 

This story centers around Nao who is ex-Yakuza and something else that would be spoilerish to reveal but he still has ties to the Kyoto Yakuza. He's now owns a tea house and is constantly in the pursuit of a new and sensational tea, oolong in particular. He stumbles across Saehyun almost immediately in the muck and unconscious, takes him home and then equally immediately becomes smitten.

The problem is Saehyun is Korean, Korean mafia (Double Moon) who are vying to wrest control of Kyoto from the Yakuza. Saehyun is also modern, cocky and brash whereas Nao clings to Kyoto's old world traditions, festivals, wears a yukata, is polite and at times comes across as meek. I'll come back to this.

So, we've got star-crossed lovers. I'm so there! Who doesn't like this trope? Plus the whole Japan/Korea history added to the sense that they were battling a larger and more pervasive foe which I find appealing.

Only there's really no relationship development between them; no connection. Sex doesn't equal love by any stretch though it can show intensity between protagonists but there was very little sex content. They're not together all that often but when declarations were made I had a hard time believing them, though after reaching the end I'm now wondering if that was purposeful. Ideally, I like to see it, feel it and have it shown to me rather than being told that it's so.

Very little happens in the first 75% of the book. The focus is on aesthetics e.g. making tea, tea customs, bringing sweets to the Yakuza boss, fixing pottery, trying to shake the bodyguard, the cat... my attention waned. There was some of what I affectionately refer to as the Japanese head game which held my attention for awhile, but overall the pacing was brutally glacial until the last 25%.

The last 25% of this book... I can't even say how many times the word WHAT?!!? came out of my mouth. I was surprised and not to sound arrogant but that's a rarity. The last 25% of this book ensured that I would read the next one. I actually cannot even hazard a guess as to what this story arch is going to throw at me next and that excites me more than I can articulate.

Takusada's usage of language to create atmosphere is top notch. Occasionally there would be a random line about strawberry lube or topping that I found jarring and jerked me out of the story. However, I oftentimes find the first book serves to set the stage and that's usually the one I have the most trouble with in a series. Because I'm American and lack patience. If my hunch is correct this is the opening salvo of what could turn into a stellar series. 

The only other thing that I had trouble reconciling was Nao's characterization. Not only is he former Yakuza but he was The Badass that no one wanted to cross, so I would think that guy wouldn't be squeamish. But he is. He trembles at some of the violence and seems helpless and in need of saving at others. Just inconsistencies that I had a hard time reconciling. I crave depth and complexity as much as the next reader, but this verged on split personality.

Some things to anyone considering reading this:

It's not overly violent which was kind of a bummer for me, since Yakuza. There are moments though so beware if you're squeamish.

I wouldn't characterize this story as a romance thus would not recommend it to those seeking MM romance or erotica. 

There is no HEA/HFN.

I think there might be a badass female character in the next book which gives me much excite!

A review copy was provided.

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