Hello humans! Today’s title holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, the most pertinent of those reasons is that the first book in this series, Flame in the Mist, was the book in the first ever Fairyloot box I received. It’s hard to believe I’ve had almost thirteen boxes and almost all of them have been amazing. I’ve got plans to do a ‘one year of Fairyloot’ post to kind of draw together all my thoughts (is that something you would like to read?) but in the meantime, I’m delighted to be reviewing the sequel to that first book Smoke in the Sun.
(Fair warning, there will be spoilers here for Flame in the Mist but not for Smoke in the Sun)
After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice—to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.
With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.
Content warning: torture
It’s interesting to go back and read my review of Flame in the Mist having now read The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. My main criticism of Flame in the Mist was that it didn’t have much fantasy. Looking back on it now I can see that’s something I should have expected, given the way that Ahdieh tends to write. I think that, if I re-read Flame in the Mist, I would enjoy it even more and it would probably be a five-star read!
Most of the time when reading a sequel (particularly when that sequel is the second part of a duology) I have a clear favourite, a clear sense of which is the stronger novel. However, in this case, I think that both books are pretty evenly matched. I can’t tell you if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s certainly interesting.
Again, now that I know Ahdieh’s work and writing style a little better I’m less surprised by the weight given to romance in this story. I think that the balance between plot and romance is actually struck very well, recognising the relationships and the dynamics that were set up in the first novel, while also recognising that circumstances have changed. I did have a worrisome twenty pages or so where I thought Ahdieh was setting up a love triangle but it was ok, crisis averted. I think those that cannot live without ‘shipping’ Okami and Mariko will be satisfied by this novel, and those who aren’t overly fussed won’t find it too distracting.
The plot of this novel is interesting, largely because I don’t think there is one villain, one evil to defeat. Certainly, there are characters who are undoubtedly evil, but there wasn’t (for want of a better example) a ‘President Snow’ to whom all the reader’s anger could be directed. I think this made the power shifts in the story much more significant than they might otherwise have been and it also means that, as a reader, you’re never 100% sure who is pulling the strings.
Mariko remains a very interesting character, particularly now she is forced back into a world where certain things are expected of her. I do think that Mariko’s inventiveness (such a key aspect to her character in Flame in the Mist) wasn’t used to its fullest in this story, but she does do a lot of sneaking out of windows and clandestine encounters so I wouldn’t say she’s lost her spark.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, if you liked Flame in the Mist I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the sequel. My one possible niggling feeling is that not enough time was given over to the host of fascinating side characters, but that is me being incredibly nit-picky and I think a quick re-read would probably prove me wrong!
My rating: 4/5 stars (more like 4.75 if I’m honest)
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are you excited to read Smoke in the Sun? Let me know in the comments below!