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Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Title: Smoke in the Sun

Author: Renée Ahdieh

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pub date: June 7th 2018

‘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.’

Flame in the Mist was one of my most favourite reads of last year and I was not disappointed by its follow-up, Smoke in the Sun. What I love about Mariko is that she picks and chooses her moments, deciding which version of herself she needs to present to the right people to endure what she must, while being unapologetically herself with those she trusts and have become important to her. So many young adult novels feature female characters who start out strong and independent and gradually get their agency taken away from them by various male characters in the name of ‘love’, and while Mariko by no means has her freedom for much of the narrative, for the most part the men who matter most to her encourage her not to compromise and not to be bound by typical expectations. It’s refreshing to see male characters who don’t use love and affection as tools to manipulate the women they care about into becoming less than they are.

The worldbuilding and description in Smoke in the Sun is just as gorgeous as in Flame in the Mist and the author’s other works. You can’t help but be drawn into Mariko’s world and pulled along on her journey with her, to the extent that I was most of the way through the story before I knew it and simply didn’t want it to end. A book well worth waiting for and thoroughly enjoyable.

Also available digitally (for free) are two Flame in the Mist short stories: Okami and Yumi. Each bridges some of the gap between the events in Flame in the Mist and where the narrative picks up again in Smoke in the Sun, focusing on the characters named in their respective titles. As can be expected from Ahdieh, these insights into already well developed characters showcase facets hinted at in the main narrative and delve into elements of thier lives that the reader can appreciate here in more detail, revealing the motives and experiences that drive them without giving away every scrap of the character’s soul, thus keeping them engaging and interesting. I recommend reading Okami and Yumi before Smoke in the Sun, but they can be enjoyed just as much after!

I received an ARC of Smoke in the Sun from NetGalley and the publisher.