Time for my first book review on humanitybecomesus! So I figured it only made sense to have my first book review on here to be Smoke in the Sun when I consider my post about Smoke in the Sun on Instagram to be my first truly successful bookstagram pic! Alrighty, here weee goooo. (Shameless Peter Pan reference).
I first read Flame in the Mist (book 1 of this duology) during the spring semester; it was one of those books I kept seeing advertised on Barnes and Noble and on peoples’ bookstagrams but just hadn’t got around to buying yet, so when I did I couldn’t believe it took me so long to read it because I loved it so much. Although I didn’t even realize this until much later this series is actually a loosely based Mulan retelling. Which I probably should have realized sooner, but…. Anyway, Flame in the Mist starts out with Mariko in a carriage being shipped off to marry the son of the emperor, until her carriage is attacked by (whom she believes to be) a robin hood-esque group called “the Black Clan.” After Mariko is the only to escape the attack she eventually infiltrates them, gains their trust, and (of course), falls for one of them – Okami. She eventually begins to trust them and becomes a member herself. At the end of the book the Black Clan camp is raided and Okami is captured, leading to Mariko giving herself up and pretending she was an unwilling prisoner this whole time. In Smoke in the Sun Mariko helps to break Okami out of prison, basically singlehandedly saves the empire and just overall kicks serious ass. (I’m trying to be somewhat spoiler free?)
Plot-wise – Smoke in the Sun was pretty decent. Mariko splits her time between attempting to break Okami out of prison, running around rooftops dumping waste buckets on people with Tsuneoki’s sister and also slowly winning Raiden over to her side and therefore influencing the future of the empire (no big). But it really wasn’t the plot or action that really drew me into Smoke in the Sun and Flame in the Mist. It’s really just Mariko herself. In Flame in the Mist she really struggles to break free of the social constraints and expectations she’s been forced to live by her whole life; even during her time with the Black Clan she really struggles to not doubt herself, or feel ashamed for being her (uncannily ingenious) self. I felt like Mariko really developed in Smoke in the Sun. Mariko starts to make all of these decisions for herself – going undercover under the emperor’s roof, continuing her engagement to Raiden, and risking herself to help the Black Clan. Although she has to hide her actions so she isn’t associated with the Black Clan, Mariko comes up with impossible plans and uses science experiments to try and break Okami out of prison. Something I really loved – Mariko’s science experiments, it was such a unique character trait – she’s an inventor!
Beyond Mariko putting her genius mind to work to save Okami (and you know, the whole empire), the other part that really stood out to me about this series was how sex positive and feminist these books were. Mariko really takes charge of her own sexuality and makes her own decisions about having sex and really doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks. Also, Renee Ahdieh really gives an interesting perspective about the geikos (Tsuneoki’s sister). Also super cool feminist moment – Mariko acknowledging her emotions, and not only knowing that having emotions is not a weakness, but also claiming it’s a strength: “Tears she had once considered a sign of weakness, but Mariko knew–in this moment–that Yoshi would have wanted her to shed them. Encouraged her to be true to herself, no matter the cost. It had taken her losing everything she knew to finally understand. Feeling pain and sorrow was not at all of sign of weakness. It was a sign of love”
Lastly, I really loved the motivation behind all the characters actions. In this book Mariko states several times that although she loves Okami, love isn’t enough for her. She puts duty and fulfilling a meaningful and impactful life above just loving Okami, if it comes to that. (*cough*, feminist af) Both Mariko and Okami put their fight for the people of the empire above their love for each other, and let’s be real most of us are not that unselfish. The other half of this is how much I love Okami as love interest. He is A. Hellllaaaa sexy, B. Does in no way shape or form try to tell Mariko what to do and C. Encourages her to be her true self and loves her for who she is.
So this was very jumbled, but I wrote it! I got it out! I’ve never really done an “actual” book review before so I’m sure these will get better and more concise, so bear with me. (plus I didn’t edit this, sorry).
To end this – I’ll leave with my favorite quote (the ending line) from Smoke in the Sun which wraps up what I was (trying to) say about how cool this book is (aka why you should read it!!!) because it tells you to go out into the world unapologetic for being yourself:
“This was what it meant to be truly free. To be herself and no one else. To be loved as she was.”