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.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed it – especially more to the end. I liked the twist with the boys claiming to be each other. I also liked that she fell for Okami instead of the more typically charming Ranmaru, even if they were the other way round at the end 😂
I liked that Mariko was questioning how women are treated too, but also that other women showed her that there are other ways to be powerful – hoping to see more of that in the next book. And also the hints of magic – in the boys and forests. Less so the magic used by the royal women though!
For me, this book left more questions unanswered, like the magic used by the boys, and Mariko going off with the princes and her brother. I also didn’t like Mariko see-sawing about things – she’s determined to hate the black clan but it seems suddenly that she’s friendly, she wants to keep her brother safe but then joins black clan. Not to mention that Mariko and Okami are magically drawn to each other, even though Okami thinks she’s a boy – I mean I bet that felt confusing when she kissed him!! 😂 other than the Mulan-esque element of hiding as a boy, which was well done (it was clear why she chose to do so and then keep doing so, and I liked her reasons) I’m not sure I really liked any of her decisions.
Also the passage of time felt off – she was there maybe a month, and after what felt longer (and should have been really in terms of building trust) she says three weeks at one point! If felt quite jarring as I imagined longer. And at one point I’m sure she says months even though it can only have been one! Confusing.
My final bug bear was with the brother – they’re twins so he’s as young as her but he comes across as much older. Now I know some of that will be her perspective, but he’s seventeen, how is he that skilled at war and combat and has the respect of his fathers men? And his own nickname and is well known as a badass or whatever? Nope, didn’t work for me!
Going back to things I want to see more of though – I’d like to see Mariko realise more about her family and how her father treats people and also educate Kenshin about it and see them confront their father. I’d like to see more about who did attack her carriage and the guy – Nobutada – who is apparently working for the emperors consort. Obviously I want to know what happens after the cliffhanger ending too.
All in, for its faults and a slowish start, I enjoyed this and found it an easy read and will be reading the next book.