I received this free digital ARC from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read in exchange for my honest review.
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.
This book kind of took forever to pick up. I mean, it had an interesting setting and some hints of intrigue and mystery, but those didn’t arrive until later on in the story. The beginning of the book is definitely held up with lack of answers to questions and random elements of the world that lack explanation.
I won’t get into the details because this isn’t the spoilers section, but much of the plot was cliche. I wouldn’t necessarily say I knew what was going to happen, but when it all unraveled, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of surprise and ingenuity. Because of how things unfolded at the beginning of the story, I thought ‘hey! maybe this will be different’ and then the end hit and I was just like ‘yup. not original after all.’
I could not stand the main character in this book. She doesn’t really have a character arc at all. She’s the same character in the beginning as she is in the end despite the author’s attempts to make it seem like she’s a whole new person. (she’s not) And I did not like her. I think it has more to do with her not having a strong personality than anything else because I can’t really say she wasn’t ‘strong’ or ‘smart’ or something. She just… was bland. I didn’t care what happened to her.
Okay. This is just me being nit-picky, but there were a couple of slip-ups in the dialect used in the book. The world is built off Japanese culture. (I’m pretty sure it was intended to exist in a historical Japan with some magic, especially since it used many references to Japanese traditions.) That being said, many words should not have been used: ‘heaven,’ ‘devil,’ and a couple others. Those are words brought into common speak via Christianity and have no place in a Japanese society otherwise uninfluenced by Western society. Sorry, but no.