The author creates a truly magical and beautiful world in this, the conclusion to the Flame in the Mist duology, however there was just a little too much going on for me to really connect to this story. It has some wonderful moments but I’m sorry to say didn’t quite live up to expectations.
The highly anticipated sequel to Flame in the Mist—an addictive, sumptuous finale that will leave readers breathless from the bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn.
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.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I can’t believe I’m only giving this book 3.5 stars. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and having loved Flame in the Mist I fully expected this to blow me away but it just never happened.
I’d love to say it was me and not the book but I don’t think that’s the case I’m afraid. It’s true that I picked this up having just read some absolutely brilliant books and it was always going to struggle to compete but I’m sorry to say that this is a book with some problems and my more recent reads just highlighted them to me.
It did begin well and I loved the similarities in the first few pages to the opening scene in Flame in the Mist. My immediate thought was “YES!!! This is going to be so good” but within the first couple of chapters my hopes began to sink. It was wonderful being back in the beautiful, magical and dangerous world the author created but I just got so confused. In fairness this was, at least in part, my own fault as I couldn’t wholly remember the first book so should maybe have had a quick re read but it took me a while to figure out who was who again, what relation they were to each other and how they’d ended up in their current positions. It probably didn’t help that at the end of the last book there was a big reveal that certain characters weren’t who you thought and this book began with trying to recap that as well as introduce a few new(ish) characters. My poor brain which is rubbish with names and relationships at the best of times just couldn’t keep up.
I think the story just became too big for me and the author tried to bring in too many storylines and characters. There wasn’t enough space for it in one book and as a result it became too thin and lost focus. There are a lot of characters and it’s told from multiple pov’s so I struggled to connect with it or really feel anything. It’s so frustrating because I love the author’s writing, the world she has created is brilliant and there is potentially a great story there but I couldn’t get to it because it’s trying to do too much all at once. I kind of wish it’d just stuck with main character Mariko and let her be the star.
Mariko is a wonderful character and I love how she has developed over this duology. It’s great to see a female lead who doesn’t have any special powers or super fighting ability but instead uses her intelligence and wits. She has her doubts and her insecurities and that makes her incredibly relateable. I wish she’d been given a little more page time as she begins this story in enemy territory (the palace) and has to play a game she lacks skill in (lying and deceiving) to save the person she loves. The most memorable scenes in this are in fact when she’s either lying and scheming or with Okami, but then I do love Okami and the relationship between them.
The other characters are interesting and there are some welcome additions, Raiden and Kanaka for example, but I’m not sure all were necessary and it became confusing (for me at any rate). I loved when Mariko was amongst the Black Clan but they feature very briefly and instead we have a lot of new characters within the palace. We get to meet the new emperor Roku and his brother (and Mariko’s betrothed) Raiden. There is the old Empress, Roku’s mother and her ladies, Raiden’s mother, the various Lords and advisors and even some servants and soldiers. It’s a lot and there just isn’t the time to fully develop all of them, and to be honest I’m not sure they serve much of a purpose to the story.
The story itself felt quite slow to me but when I think about it there was a lot of action. There are twists and turns, political intrigue, betrayal, torture, battles and even executions/murder but for some reason I just never felt any excitement or emotion from it. Even deaths which should have triggered some kind of reaction passed me by and when I suddenly realized it was all over I felt a little let down. It seemed very rushed and not the ending the story deserved. So much was left incomplete and unfinished and it was just so unsatisfying.
Anyway, it isn’t all bad. The world the author creates is wonderful and there are some very lovely moments I just think it could have been more. I have however been a little down on YA fantasy lately though so please don’t let my review put you off. It is still a duology worth reading for the world building alone.
Thanks to NetGalley and publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.