3 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this book.
I put this on my to-read list looking exclusively at the cover because it was pretty. Because of the author and the cover, I was just assuming it was going to be another one set in the Middle East. It was not. It is set in a historical Japanese setting. If you are an adult and have read some James Clavell and want to pass on something with a similar feel, but that reads like a teen novel, this will be a good fit.
Mariko is the daughter of a noble and is being married off to a prince. En route to the wedding, she is attacked by a group of thieves (the Black Clan) who slaughter the rest of her escort. She manages to escape (barely), but instead of heading home, decides to enact revenge. Dressed as a boy she gets into the gang and starts to plot. As her relationships with the guys start to develop, though, she realizes her perception of the events might not be completely accurate.
It seems to be all over the reviews that this is a rewrite of Mulan, but I cannot see it. It is a story set in the Orient and has a girl disguised as boy and those are the only two similarities. Her father is not called into army service and she does not take his place. This is set in Japan and that was set in China. In that one the protagonist saves a country, in this one she has saved her own life and nothing else so far. The similarities are incredibly few and far between.
This one fell flat for me. The book was too focused on characters and did not give me enough culture and plot. I do not know a ton about Japanese culture, neither historically nor modern, so I would have loved this book to have given me a glimpse into their food, clothing, literature, etc. (that is part of what I really liked about Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate. Those really gives you a feel for Russian culture). It was so busy with burgeoning romance and relationships that they rarely go into descriptions of the culture that I am craving.
Similarly, there does not seem to be a lot of plot once you get to the end of the book and reflect. Mariko is attacked, manages to escape and join a gang, then finds out she might be wrong. For this having some politics in it, it should be more complicated. It should have more twists and turns and surprises. It has one. That is not enough.
This reads like a very standard YA book that is mostly about feelings. If you like teens making kissy faces at each other, go ahead. If you are looking for something special, maybe look elsewhere.