“The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt 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.” (via Goodreads)
Mariko might not be the YA feminist hero of 2017, but she is pretty kick-ass. For a teenager, she has a sturdy head on her shoulders and a strong sense of what’s right. She’s smart enough to know when to challenge an unjust system and when to shut up. Despite her restrictive upbringing, she knows exactly what she wants even though she doesn’t always know how to get it. She’s too clever by half, but in an endearing, intelligent way. It’s too bad she hasn’t (yet?) met Genmei, the emperor’s vengeful wife, or Kanako, his scheming consort. Mariko could learn a lot from them about the subtle arts of manipulation and revenge.
The rest of the cast is fascinating and fun. The emperor’s two wives are conniving and cruel, but with good reason, and his sons, Roku and Raidan, are just what good villains should be. Yoshi has a real Baze Malbus vibe, Ranmaru is riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, and fingers crossed we get to learn more about Ren’s troubled past. Ōkami is sure to be a fan favorite, what with his good looks, brooding bad boy sensibility, and sharp-edged charm. He’s the third most important character in the book and has the most direct interaction with Mariko, so we get to thoroughly explore his personality.
Kenshin was probably my favorite of the non-Mariko characters. Where Mariko learned early on to contemplate and analyze, Kenshin is all surface. Yet as he hunts for Mariko, he starts to question for the first time in his life the way of the world. Mariko has long accepted that the way things are and what she wants will often be two unrelated states; Kenshin is only encountering that now. Both siblings are placed by society into roles they might not necessarily choose for themselves and both are very good at playing those parts, but as Mariko learns to love Kenshin’s world of power and excitement, Kenshin is more reluctant to do anything about his deficits.
For the rest of my review, head over to Tor.com.
A shadow fell across his features. “Very well, Lady Hattori. We shall proceed through Jukai forest.” With that, he urged his charger back toward the head of the convoy.
As expected, Mariko had irritated him. She’d offered no real opinion on anything since they’d left her family’s home that morning. And Nobutada wanted her to play at directing him. To give him tasks befitting such a vaunted role.
Tasks befitting the samurai in charge of delivering a royal bride.
Mariko supposed she should care she might be arriving at Heian Castle late.
Late to meet the emperor. Late to meet his second son—
Her future husband.
But Mariko did not care. Ever since the afternoon her father had informed her that Emperor Minamoto Masaru had made an offer of marriage on behalf of his son Raiden, she’d truly not cared about much.
Mariko was to be the wife of Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort. A political marriage that would elevate her father’s standing amongst the ruling daimyo class.
She should care that she was being exchanged like property in order to curry favor. But Mariko did not.
Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.