The sequel to 2017’s Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh, Smoke in the Sun is one of the many, many books that got released during my extended hiatus from blogging and reading. I was initially very excited to get my hands on this sequel as soon as it got released when I finished Flame in the Mist back in 2017.
Better late than never!
For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.
Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.
As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.
I’ll start out by saying, overall I enjoyed this book. But I had a lot of issues with it in spite of how much I sped through, wanting to get to the end, to the resolution. As it turns out, the book was very desperate to get there too.
It was all a bit too rushed – the entire storyline felt like it had an ending and it had a deadline to get there. All the major plot points happened in the middle stage of the book – which is fine, it’s good to buck tradition, except the third act felt like a sprint and everything was incredibly anti-climatic.
The story was good, it made sense and I was really excited with where it was all going, some points felt a little skimmed over – but they weren’t major misdeeds and it made sense to keep the story going at a reasonable pace, it’s a duology after all, it all had to be wrapped up by the end of this book. However, as much as duologies may be my favourite kind of series when it comes to books, I do believe this is a book that would’ve really benefited from being a trilogy.
You could see how easily the story could’ve been expanded and more intricately explained and how much more depth and enjoyment the reader would’ve got out of that. Some really important character development only happened within the space of one conversation, or a few pages at best and it felt far too hastily done.
And then we get to the third act. And I was in partial disbelief when I got to around 50 pages left that this would all get wrapped up by the end of the book. As I said above, the conclusion felt very anti-climatic, it just felt as though the author ran out of pages and it was all quite under-whelming. Yes, it all got wrapped up, but we never get to see the results of everything that happened, just one small epilogue, no true aftermath. We never get to see the outcomes of any of the characters that aren’t Mariko or Okami and I got so invested in them and their stories with no payoff, I was quite sad to depart from these characters so soon, when it felt like there was so much left to explore.
“Ours is a love stronger than fear and deeper than the sea”
While this was obviously my biggest gripe with this book, and it definitely impacted my love for the story and especially this installment, I still loved being transported back to this story. The author creates this beautiful landscape for the reader to get fully immersed in and truly escape to.
Reacquainting ourselves with the characters was also great, I’d truly forgotten how much I’d enjoyed our lead character Mariko’s development from the first book. This is the centrepiece of our story, and she is both, not your standard love interest damsel in distress, nor is she the classic badass strong female character. She is a fluid middle ground that find safety in logic and fear of the unknown. She has strength and she has weakness but she is brave and she is bold and she is a wonder to read. She doesn’t fit a certain archetype and for that I am grateful.
The side characters were fleshed out enough for us to get invested and mysterious enough for us to crave to know more. Okami, Kenshin, Yumi were all characters I so desperately wanted to explore. We get the beginnings of exploration into the complexities of the supporting cast but we never get to fully delve in and I so wish we could’ve seen them more.
I did very much enjoy this book. I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads, which is my go to rating for most books (it is easily my most common rating – my “ I enjoyed it, but I more than likely won’t read it again but had a good time” rating), I just happened to have a big ole issue with the pacing that did affect my enjoyability on the whole. But I still would recommend this as a solid YA fantasy duology.