The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favourite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.
Release Date: 18th May 2017 (UK)
I received a copy of this book from Hodder & Stoughton in exchange for a fair and impartial review.
As you may, or may not be aware I am a keen fan of fairy tale retellings. These usually consist of the Cinderella story line or are retelling Alice in Wonderland in an even more fantastical way. In this book – loosely based on Mulan – we go straight to Japan where the Emperor is in charge and families will do anything to stay in favour – and alive. What this means for Mariko is that while her twin brother is one of the best samurai around she has to be pretty, be paraded and ultimately married for the progression of her family.
Disclaimer for all those who have an understanding of Japanese culture, this book is not perfect. What I liked to remember is that it is a fantasy, or at least a burgeoning one that will be further explored in the next book as in this instance the fantasy elements come to a head towards the end of the book. No one is perfect but I found this a refreshing read with many nods to the culture.
Mariko is a headstrong protagonist who does what she has to survive, whether is be meek and obedient or ready to tough it out as one of the boys in order to survive and ultimately get back to her family. She is smart being an alchemist and an inventor of a sort. With the knowledge of her brothers techniques when searching for someone she knows she only has so much time before she is discovered but her thirst for knowledge over-rides it all.
Okami – the Wolf – is part of the rag-tag Black Clan and is the right hand man for Takeda Ranmaru. Between them they act as Robin Hood, people who try to take from the rich and give to the needy – however there is an ulterior motive. The bond between these two is clear and is more a brother relationship than that of friends, they have each others backs but will keep secrets too. The black clan is full of characters and throughout the novel there is a chance to meet them all.
So, my overall opinion of this book is that it blends traditional Japanese culture and history with a headstrong female lead who doesn’t just swan about but is an active participant in the plot. The cliff-hanger is sure of itself and not only leaves you wanting the next book, but asking questions of the revelations had.