Smoke in the Sun
by Renee Ahdieh
E-book, 416 pages
Published June 15th, 2018 by G.P Putnam Sons
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 the very safety of the empire.
S P O I L E R S!!!
Disappointment doesn’t even begin to express my feelings.
Here’s the thing: I have high hopes for Renee Ahdieh. I love love LOVE The Wrath and The Dawn, it was exquisite and captivating. But The Rose and The Dagger disappoint me with its barely-moving plot, unexplained magic, and war-baiting. I thought maybe it was a one-time disappointment so I decided to give her another try by reading Flame in the Mist. After all, I love Mulan and after seeing how Renee gives life to Shazi, who’s better to bring Mulan to justice?
Sadly, it was not the case. But it was more of a wrong marketing rather than the fault of the author. The story is NOT a Mulan retelling, so if you’re going into the series expecting it like I did, you are going to be disappointed. Especially since it’s more of 47 Ronin. If only it was marketed correctly, I can say I would enjoy the story but I didn’t, because it just felt wrong reading a supposed Mulan story when the only thing Mulan-ish about the story is the cross-dressing aspect. Flame in the Mist is a story about revenge, honor, and women finding their place in a world of men- more 47 Ronin.
I am still interested to read Smoke in the Sun because the magical aspect intrigue me, but I didn’t held high hopes since The Rose and The Dagger failed in explaining the magic either. But even with my low expectations, this book still managed to let me down.
For the first 200 pages, the pacing barely move. I know Renee has ways with words, it’s one of my favorite thing about her. Her writing brings the world to life in such a way that you feel like you’re there. But the first 200 pages is all about various characters monologue, setting up their position and stage. As the result, it was more telling than showing, and I’m very bored. I’m really close to giving up at this stage. And then the story picked up and became really interesting in the last few chapters… only for it to end abruptly and proceed to epilogue.
I’m more accepting with the fact there’s less explanation about the magic here because at least they mentioned the bargain with the demon and Japan is famous for its many spirits. At least it does not have a curse as a major plot only to disappear and never mentioned nor resolved ever again. What I can’t get behind is the abrupt ending, with no closure for the characters.
You see, the first hundreds of pages spent in the characters monologue present us with a chance to get to know the characters. Mariko, Okami, Tsuneoki, Yumi, Kenshin, Raiden. 6 players, all with different roles and position. We see their hopes, doubts, grief, and honor. We get to know them, know what they truly want, and the person behind their facade.We spend so much time seeing them developed, only to have their story unfinished and just… there. It left too many holes, such as:
- Do Tsuneoki and Okami restored their position?
- Is the Black Clan disbanding now?
- What is the payment for Tsuneoki and Okami’s powers?
- Is Yumi going back being a Geiko or travelling the country and kicking injustice’s ass?
- What happen to the Hattori Clan? There’s no mention of them AT ALL throughout the plague.
- What happens next to Kenshin?
- Um sorry but is there no repercussion for Raiden, whose mom created all the unrest?
- Sleeping, scarred woman in the forest. What happened to her??
- wHAT’S HAPPENING.
Other reasons why I’m disappointed but too lazy to create a whole paragraph on them:
- It doesn’t focus on romance either??? Yes Okami is in Mariko’s thoughts and prayers 24/7 but they barely have time together. And Tsuneoki? It felt like a half-hearted attempt to include diversity in the series.
- The answer of who kidnap Mariko was too simple. After spending a whole book searching for the answer, it felt underwhelming.
- What about the glowing sword??? What’s the point of making it such a big deal and then not mentioning it ever again??
- And the fish scale? I did not get that chapter at all.
- The whole time I was reading this book, I can’t help the feeling of deja vu. Main otp separated and one is a prisoner? ✅ Inexplicable magic? ✅ Abrupt ending? ✅ The sibling of main protagonist work with the love interest close confidante? ✅ The impending war resolved without actual war? ✅ It’s like the same plot with The Rose and the Dagger smh.
- I’m sorry I’m so bitter but I AM SAD.
It’s not all bad though! The characters are superb, especially the development. I just feel like if you’re going to invest so much time in developing them, either split this book into two or write more novella so the plot can also develop. Other things I like is how supportive Okami and Raiden are. Okami truly understands Mariko’s want and strength, this is the first time I’ve read the love interest leave the MC behind. Raiden took a while to change, but eventually he came to appreciate Mariko’s strengths and rely on her too. And finally, Renee Ahdieh is really good at evoking sensory experience and immerse you into her world. I just wish we spend less time hearing rustling of silk, tatami, or tinkling water and goes to the story instead.
Sadly, Smoke in the Sun did not work for me. In fact, I’d say it really disappoint me to a point it almost put me in a reading slump. We spent so much time setting the characters that the pacing was so slow and the plot has no chance of developing. As the result, this book felt like it is confused on how to finish all its loose thread and instead of taking the hard way, it take the convenient way of abrupt stop and time jump. It’s really disappointing really, because the author has a beautiful writing and vivid imagination.