I just bought Stepping on Roses vol. 1 by Rinko Ueda (she of Tail of the Moon). I read it and thought it was cute and the girl’s dresses were pretty. I read a bunch of reviews and people had nothing nice to say about it.
Perhaps because I’ve been ill and have been stressed at work, I enjoyed the familiarity of it.
The story is this: Sumi is taking care of a passel of orphans while her profligate brother gambles away the rent money. In desperation, she decides to prostitute herself to save the children from being sold to pay a gambling debt. Soichiro, wealthy, handsome, and cruel, agrees to pay her debt if she’ll become his bride. Previously, another rich young man, Nozomu, gave Sumi money in a handkerchief to pay for one of the orphan’s medicine. She keeps his handkerchief with her always. Lo, Nozomu is Soichiro’s best friend.
I can understand why reviewers didn’t like it. It’s not funny. It’s not genre-savvy. It does not inform on the Meiji period. The characters are not lovable. I also agree that if Sumi was going hungry and willing to sacrifice her virginity for the sake of the children, she should at least try to sneak out of the house to see if they are OK.
On the other hand, I didn’t mind that she is painfully ignorant and overwrought and doesn’t have an steely sense of self. She’s 15 year old illiterate orphan who has had too much responsibility.
It is a marriage of convenience which is my favorite romance plot. The best version to my mind is still Georgette Heyer’s Convenient Marriage, in which Horatia offers to marry the Earl of Rule to spare her elder sister. It would be an effort not to adore Horatia and the Earl of Rule is delightfully gentle with her.
I also like any kind of super babysitter tale in which the heroine has to convey her charges to safety. (Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink, Tiger Burning Bright by Theodora Dubois, The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, and so on). I hope that Sumi goes back to her babies soon.
Plus, Sumi’s attire is very, very pretty and everyone has sparkly eyes.