The epicness that is Hattori Mariko continues in Smoke in the Sun, book two in the Flame in the Mist series by Renee Ahdieh! My favourite thing about this series is definitely Mariko and her unwavering strength. Renee Ahdieh has created a powerful, unyielding, kick-ass female protagonist who doesn’t give an inch, even for love. The sacrifices Mariko makes for her cause, her courage, and her conviction to do what’s best for the greater good are admirable, if not a little baffling.
In this second and final book, Mariko is trapped among cunning socialites and violent rulers inside Heian Castle, where she awaits her marriage to Raiden, the man she does *not* love. I love the progression of Raiden’s character. He is aggressive, detached, seemingly unloving… yet we start to see that Raiden himself has been trapped in his own way, perhaps his whole life. He’s a really interesting character and I enjoyed watching him develop throughout the book.
Raiden’s mother is one scary lady. Kanako has always been second best in the eyes of the emperor and everyone at court. She wasn’t chosen to be the wife, merely the consort, and her son, although the eldest, would never been chosen as reigning emperor. Kanako has plans and we see her lighting the first spark of these at the end of book one, Flame in the Mist. Things only get more intense from there. She is ruthless and single-minded to such an extent that her actions can only be described as selfish and evil. Considering how she bends the dead and the living to her will in order to get what she wants: her son as emperor.
Every time one of her chapters came up, she was shrouded in this spooky imagery of magic and a smiling fox and men who lose hours to mindlessness… they were some of my favourite parts!
One really interesting concept Ahdieh plays with is the idea of loyalty. Does loyalty to family always trump love, friendship or yourself? Mariko is tested throughout the book by her disagreements with her brother Kenshin. When does it stop mattering that they are family? When is it ok to walk away?
Kenshin treats Mariko with mistrust the second she is ‘rescued’ at the end of book one and he battles with whether or not he can trust her. As I’ve said before, Mariko’s strength is impressive. Even the love for family, for her brother, cannot trump the loyalty she feels for the Black Clan and what they, as a team, stand for.
All in all, I loved this series! It really is Mulan meets Throne of Glass and trust me when I say, this is one for the collection.