Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her bould-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the soverign’s brother, saying goodby to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most poerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

oOo

This is a really good follow up to Flame in the Mist, but it focuses more on the love story between Mariko and Ōkami so I wasn’t quite as riveted as I was with the first book. Still lots of ninjas, though. There’s more political drama in this one as well. Mariko is in the imperial city and everyone; the emperor, empress, concubines, heirs, and ladies-in-waiting all have an agenda and are all maneuvering to get more power. That definitely keeps the pages turning. There’s a sorceress in the palace as well, so we keep that thread of fantasy going throughout the book.

Mariko is still the fierce and adaptable character we had in the last book, but Smoke in the Sun is more love story than adventure story. To me, it sometimes feels like Mariko’s interactions with Ōkami are a little too HOW DO I LIIIIVE WITHOUT YOUUUUUU. Sure, Ōkami is set to be executed literally any day, but, they’ve known each other all of three months or so.

Calm down.

Or maybe that’s a solid reaction. I don’t know. I’m aro/ace, my gauge on appropriate romantic reactions didn’t even get installed.

Anyway, we’re given better introductions to Roku and Raiden who we meet in Flame in the Mist. Roku is the heir apparent and his brother, Raiden, is Mariko’s betrothed. They’re brothers and thick as thieves even though their mothers hate each other. As Roku gains more and more power though we begin to see that he’s not just a cunning and spoiled little prince, he’s also a genuine sociopath.

Raiden is little better, constantly following his brother’s orders and whims, but as the story continues we see the two begin to diverge. As Roku becomes more and more depraved, Raiden becomes more and more uncomfortable and begins to question his blind loyalty.

Meanwhile, Mariko and Ōkami are in the background with “I Will Always Love You” playing on repeat and the rest of the Black Clan waving their lighters in the air.

But, even with this being more a love story than anything else, I will happily read this again because it is a wonderful conclusion to Flame in the Mist. And I still love Takeda.

 

You can find Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here.

 

Advertisements

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

oOo

Oh boy, you know I love me some ninjas. I had this book at the checkout counter before conscious thought caught up to me. It’s hard to find good fantasy with ninjas. I don’t know why; their mythology is ripe for excellent stories. But Ahdieh has made an incredible story with a smattering of supernatural elements that elevate this Finding Yourself/Love story from good to great.

Mariko is a wonderful protagonist. She comes from wealth and has lived a life of luxury, but she doesn’t fall into that floundering fish out of water trope we often see with wealthy characters suddenly thrust among People. She’s smart, adaptable, resourceful, and fierce. But she still has her blind spots. She’s the daughter of a well known samurai and as such she’s never known cold or hunger and this book takes the time to show her that the lovely bubble she grew up in doesn’t apply to the peasants working the fields. This is as much a political drama as it is an adventure and love story.

The Black Clan speaks true to the workings of ninja clans in feudal Japan. They’re ronin and peasants who have banded together for revenge against the ruling class. But we get a little bit of the mythos with our Black Clan leaders, Takeda and Ōkami, who have made a deal with a demon to get supernatural powers.

My favorite of the boys is Takeda, he’s a cheeky little jackass and I just adore him. Ōkami swings between apathy and agitation, depending on how much Takeda is teasing him. The two are best friends and have been through hell together and it shows. There’s a lot of friendship on the page, but so much subtext in all of their interactions you know the author has taken the time to think through the entirety of their lives, not just what’s written down.

I say this with pretty much every book I read, but I don’t care about romance or love because so often those stories follow the same formula over and over again. It’s tedious. But Ahdieh throws a nice little twist into things. When Mariko meets Takeda and Ōkami, she’s dressed as a boy. No one knows she’s a girl in disguise and they treat her like they would any other boy.

Which makes things delightful when Ōkami starts catching feelings. So much fun. I’ve read other books where a character poses as a boy but the love story doesn’t start its arc until they’re revealed as a girl, because gods help us if a someone finds themselves attracted to what they think is the same sex. So a round of applause to Ahdieh for breaking the trend and making this fledgling romance funny and true to life.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. While Mariko is out searching for the people who want her dead, her twin brother, Kenshin, is searching for her. He, like everyone else in Mariko’s previous life, think she’s meek and fragile and likely being horribly traumatized and brutalized by being captured by bandits. So when he finally finds the Black Clan stronghold there’s an intense battle and we get to see Mariko, once again show off her intellect not only in the weapons she designs but also in how she figures out how to end the confrontation when the Black Clan begins losing ground.

This is definitely a book I will read again, not only because I love all things ninja, but because Ahdieh has written a great character with Mariko and a compelling story. Even if you take out the ninjas (but why would you?) you’d still have a page turner on your hands.

There is of course a sequel, Smoke in the Sun, where we see Mariko heading to the imperial city and the nest of vipers that awaits her there.

 

If you’d like to pick up Flame in the Mist, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author, Renée Ahdieh