The story: Mariko is on her way to be married to a member of the royal family when her carriage is attacked and her companions murdered. Disguised as a boy, she sets out to find and infiltrate the notorious Black Clan, defend her family’s honour and discover who wants her dead and why. At the same time, her twin brother will stop at nothing to find her again, while others are scheming away in the background to manipulate events to suit their own agendas.
My thoughts: Mariko is a strong main character, and over the course of the novel she undergoes a real transformation. Disguised in a male dominated environment, the characteristics she was always taught to value above all others are useless and she has to learn from scratch the practical skills that others take for granted. As the novel progresses, she also has to come to terms with various home truths about herself and the world she was brought up in, casting off her privileges to become her own person for the first time in her life.
As a female in feudal Japan, she feels that her life has been mapped out for her based on duty and honour. She feels that her gender has her boxed into a corner with no other options available. However, her experiences and the characters that she meets help her to redefine herself, her relationships with the people around her and her place in the world.
I also really enjoyed reading about all of the different members of the Black Clan, their backgrounds and how they functioned as a group – and I found the history of the Samurai and it’s honour code fascinating.
The story itself is action packed and well paced, and I really enjoyed reading about the Japanese culture – although it took a while before I was fully immersed in it. I found a glossary of Japanese terms at the end of the ebook, which would have been helpful to know about while I was reading.
There were a couple of things that I didn’t enjoy. While Mariko is generally likeable, some of the decisions she makes are ridiculous. There a number of occasions where it felt like her actions were written in simply to force the plot along. I still don’t understand how spending more time in the forest alone with a gang of rogues and thieves would in any way help to restore her lost honour, which threw the whole premise of the novel onto shaky ground for me. There’s also a decision she makes closer to the end of the novel which defies all common sense and seems contrived just to bring some of the central characters into conflict.
I also wasn’t sure about the use of the supernatural in this book. It wasn’t really explained and I didn’t feel like it was properly built into the world the author had constructed – so much so that whenever it was mentioned it felt jarring and unnatural.
All in all though, this was an enjoyable read and I’ll definitely be looking out for the next in the series.