By Renée Ahdieh.
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.
The setting of this book in feudal Japan is what really appealed to me when I first heard about it. That, coupled with how much I enjoyed The Wrath and The Dawn, made this a must read for me, and for the most part, it did not disappoint.
At first, it was jarring to see so many Japanese terms in the text, although that was to be expected. The glossary at the end helped, and I found myself googling a lot of the words simply to learn more. Japanese culture fascinates me, and both times I visited the country I left wanting to return.
The writing is very aesthetically pleasing, without being distracting. This is a hard balance to maintain, but it’s achieved here with ease. Things are described vividly, not extensively. There is plenty of action and intrigue, and none of it feels forced.
All characters were wonderfully developed, and every single one of them was compelling. From Mariko’s brother, to the Emperor and his family, to the members of the Black Clan, everyone feels like a real part of this world.
The one exception, for me, was the main character herself. I consistently failed to fully grasp her motivations and the reasoning behind her actions.
The romance in this book is just right, never overwhelming the friendships that are also forming. The relationship between Okami and Ranmaru was captivating, as was the relationship they both forge with Mariko. Their backstory is an interesting layer that adds more threads to an already richly woven tale.
By the end of the book, we get some revelations, and a great setup for the next one. It feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this story. I can’t wait to peel back more layers, and dive right in.
4 hearts out of 5.