by Renee Ahdieh
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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 favorite 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.
**ARC provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review**
At that, the Wolf started to laugh. It began softly, like the rumble of a drum. Then it rose to a steadying rain. It wasn’t a rich kind of laughter. Its sound didn’t fill Mariko’s ears with its honeyed resonance. But it was clear and deep, much like the color of his eyes.
And a part of her couldn’t help but think-were he another boy, in another time, in another place-Mariko would have liked to hear Okami’s laughter.
Would have enjoyed being the cause of it.
Renee Ahdieh stole a place in my heart long ago with Khalid and Shazi’s story. Their love enraptured me from the start, weaving deep into my soul with each passing page. Their love overcame so many obstacles, took leaps and bounds through story-telling and a deeper understanding of a curse that could not be controlled. And now, Renee has captured my heart again through Mariko’s perilous journey to infiltrate the deadly Black Clan not as a woman…but as a man. One of their own.
“Never doubt. Never fear. Never overthink.” Okami watched her as he spoke. As though he was searching for something beyond her. “That is the only way to stay alive.”
When I saw that this amazing author was coming out with a book that had components of Mulan-or hey, even just that this author was producing another masterpiece-I was ecstatic. Also, have you SEEN that cover? It’s just so pretty I can’t stand it. But with this lovely book I saw something that made my heart sink-it came out after my baby was supposed to be born. Luckily, Penguin was more than willing to help me out and get my copy to me early-But, as fate would have it, I also had my baby girl early. Sigh. I had 50% of FITM done when I went into labor and I figured I’d have no chance of finishing it, at that point. How sad is it that when I woke up in pain and just KNEW I was going to be having her that day, my first two thoughts were this:
A) ARE YOU SERIOUS-I can’t go see Beauty and the Beast tonight in IMAX ARGH
B) Omg my book. I’ll never finish my beautiful book that Penguin sent me
But that just goes to show you how amazing this book was-After a couple weeks of figuring out my little girl’s schedule, I persevered and finished the rest in one afternoon-It’s just a totally unputdownable book.
So here I am, making time to write a review for a book that totally deserves it. With rich story-telling, deep, imaginative characters, and vivid world-building (at least to me), I couldn’t help but fall for each and every character…even those that were not so kind to our Mariko.
Each new day brought new struggles, causing loss of breath for every moment I thought she would be caught by the too-wise Okami (Aka The Wolf), by the antagonistic Ren. And yet…I also held my breath for different reasons.
“You don’t believe your great love is out there, simply waiting to be found?”
“Do you?” Mariko pitched her voice low. Graveled with disbelief.
Ranmaru’s broad lips spread into an easy smile.” I believe the stars align so that souls can find one another. Whether they are meant to be souls in love or souls in life remains to be seen.”
Okami always knew Mariko was different, that something was off about her-Too soft, too green to be what ‘he’ claimed to be. So Okami was always watching, taunting, waiting for their newest ‘recruit’ to make a mistake. But as he gets closer to Mariko, he begins to feel protective, to almost like him/her…yet all the while Okami feels something is off-and he will find out what, no matter the cost.
Is it bad that all I wanted was for him to find out? To see that the boy he has been teaching and bestowing wisdom upon was actually a girl…a girl he could have feelings for? I held my breath at every twist and turn, just pining for her to make a mistake so I could see them kiss or SOMETHING.
I will admit that this part of the book did baffle me a bit. Just like in Mulan, I have to wonder how you can reconcile feelings for a gender swap, just like that (Meaning, in Mulan, he never knew she was a girl, then all of a sudden he did….and then she saves them all yadda yadda and he knows he loves her, in the end. Just…how?). He knew she was different…and yet he didn’t know to what extent. I won’t spoil anything, but this did give me pause…because I just can’t help but think about these things.
It was a mistake. All of it. For as long as she’d known him, Mariko had despised the very idea of this boy.
But the truth of him?
The truth was not quite as simple. It was a silent entreaty, A wordless plea.
And because of my extreme love for these two people who had no idea they had major tension brewing between them, I forgot to mention the best part! This is most definitely an enemies-at-first-site deal at the beginning-a hate to (maybe) love thing. Mariko despises the lazy Okami, and he finds her to be a liar, an extra burden. It was comical and sweet and…ugh. I just love this book so much, CAN’T YOU TELL??
In order to hate, one must first love.
I’m truly sorry for those who like my reviews and, quite frankly, the publisher because this review is all over the place. But, hey, so is my brain-it might be for a while. I had to write something, though, or I’d have gone crazy knowing I didn’t do my part.
So, for those of you excited about this book…you should be. And for those on the fence? STOP. Don’t be. It’s an absolutely amazing story and this author knows what she’s doing. Don’t doubt her. Just sit, wait, and grab this book the minute it releases. I truly don’t see how this could disappoint…I can’t wait to read it again and again-it was a true beauty-I’m only sorry I had to read it in two parts, two weeks apart. And that my review isn’t what I normally would be able to write. Thank you again to Penguin for the opportunity to read and review this early.