Genre: YA Fantasy
Recommended Age: 14+ (some mature scenes and some trigger warnings for some scenes towards the beginning of the novel).
Favorite Quote: “I have never been angry to have been born a woman.”
“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 Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.” – provided by Amazon.
Growing up my favorite Disney movie has always been Mulan. I absolutely loved how inspired it made me feel as a girl. I felt invincible when I watched the movies and sang the songs. And I had hoped I would have felt some nostalgia or resemblance of that feeling in this book. While the book is decent, I just felt like it wasn’t the Mulan retelling I want so bad. Before I get into that I want to go into some of the good points about this book.
The book had some shining moments with the unqiue writing style and the pacing. The pacing was very consistent and it never felt forced or too fast. The writing style was also new and at times it fit in well with the style of the book. But unfortunately that’s all I have to say about the good of this book.
While I managed to finish the book and at times I found myself enjoying it, I felt that the book fell flat of its potential. The supporting characters were very well written, but the main protagonist we were made to follow for the majority of the book was not the Mulan character we deserved. She was very wishy washy and flat as a character. She also had what I termed “Marie Antoinette” syndrome: where you don’t see, by either choice or because of your class, the suffering of others in a lower class than you. At one point in the novel she does realize the suffering and plight of her father’s people, but then she does something so idiotic that it can only hurt those suffering even further than they are currently. Mariko can’t seem to decide what side she’s on throughout the whole novel and she seems to let her prejudice cloud her judgment. She also is very “holier than thou” as a character. She believes herself to be the smartest character in the novel and this high opinion of herself doesn’t change throughout the whole novel. Mariko just had very little character growth and it’s very frustrating as a reader to read about a character who has so many flaws but doesn’t change or grow. Besides that, I also felt the plot was a bit everywhere and that it either needed to be simplified or the genre needed to be reconsidered. The book would have been better as a historical fiction piece, but the author wrote it to be a fantasy novel…. But the author doesn’t explain the magic elements of the novel. And at the end of the book it seems that everyone has magic but how they have this is up to anyone’s interpretation. The writing style is also off-putting to a lot of readers. I hosted a readalong of this book this month and almost everyone in the group complained about the writing style and the way the author used some of the Japanese words (i.e. tabi socks is basically saying socks socks) . While I found it unique, I can see their concerns and complaints.
Overall I feel that this book had a lot of potential but fell flat. I really feel that the book would have been better as just a historical fiction piece without any magic in it. This is just my opinion though and if you want to give this book a try don’t let my opinion sway you away from it. This book is to become a duology so maybe the errors will be fixed in that book. For now, happy reading!