Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist #2)
By: Renee Ahdieh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: June 5th 2018
For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-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 sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye 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 powerful 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.
Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.
Renee Ahdieh is a darling of this particular blog–and with good reason, since she keeps writing gorgeous, diverse stories with badass women in them. I adored Flame in the Mist, Renee’s Mulan-inspired Japanese novel, and was delighted with the sequel, Smoke in the Sun.
As before, my absolute favorite part of this book was Mariko–her quick wit, her determination, and her ability to think three steps ahead of everyone else. Smoke in the Sun begins with her in a very different scenario: instead of pretending to be a boy in a lawless bunch of criminals, she’s having to pretend she’s a lady and not (essentially) a spy in the Imperial court. And, unlike earlier where she was looking after herself, she has a purpose: to find Okami, her love and a prisoner of the emperor, and free him.
Perhaps because of all of the moving pieces and different characters, Smoke in the Sun feels a little more scattered than its predecessor did: there was a lot of flipping around and looking through different viewpoints and skipping back and forth. The story was clearly building towards a climax: strange magic, armies, a mad emperor, his brother, and Mariko. But for the longest time I wasn’t sure how it would get there.
That being said, this was an entertaining adventure of a book. Even not quite knowing what the end game was, it was quick-paced and sharp. The shifts from the Emperor’s Court to his dungeons to the outlaws outside the gates was fascinating and rich. All of the characters were compelling, even the ones that only had one or two scenes.
And, when the climax did come, it was frankly crazy. There was so much going on that it was almost hard to focus on just one thing–there were smaller aspects that were thrown out that I didn’t see again. There were magical japanese zombie things, for goodness sakes. It was glorious, but chaotic–and, after all of the zombies, ended with something of a whimper rather than a bang. I’m also torn on the ending–it was, in some ways tied up very neatly, and then in some ways there were some odd strings left dangling (one of the ‘baddies’ technically triumphed? And it was just skated over?)
I’m genuinely torn on this book–on the one hand it was delightfully entertaining read, fast-paced and deeply enjoyable, but on the other hand it wasn’t quite as tight as I wanted it to be, and as the first book had been.
But, would I recommend this series? Absolutely yes. It’s rare that I get to visit feudal Japan in a book, despite it being a truly fascinating world, and Renee Ahdieh crafts the world and its occupants with such delicacy and nuance that it’s impossible not to like.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.