I was provided an early copy of this by Netgalley but all opinions are my own.
I really liked some parts but other ones either didn’t make any sense or they were just boring. The only reason I hurried to finish this was so I could be free to read something else and because being in a BR I felt motivated to keep up with my BR partner, but most of the time all I wanted to do was…basically anything that wasn’t reading this.
It was a story with so much potential that I can’t help but feel really sad and disappointed because some things were very poorly executed in my opinion.
Let’s start with Mariko’s character. We’re told she is really smart and clever, and within the book she “invents” shuriken, grenades (?) and possibly other things that I was too confused to really get, but we actually aren’t shown how intelligent she is. Ahdieh deliberately decides to have Mariko invent those things but as a reader that didn’t affect my perception of her as a rather bland character, and not a particularly smart at that.
From her reasons to stay with the Black Clan (so that she could…somehow save her name from “shame” in her family’s eyes…by camping with a group of men…mmh okaaay?) to her acceptance of things that she should probably have questioned (the animal in the forest?), she did not read like a very smart character.
She only shines with a couple of important quotes, but those aren’t enough to make me love the book (or her character as a whole). Still, it’s important for younger readers to see these messages in a book.
I will not be bandied about by men any longer. I am not a prize to be bought or sold.
Was is always necessary for boys to prove they knew more than anyone else around them?
She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion. She was not a half. She was wholly her own.
Something else I liked was how the other few female characters were portrayed.
Mariko nudged the handle of her spoon with a bound fingertip. “Are you ever angry you were born a woman?”
Yumi sat back on her heels and studied Mariko for a spell. “I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
Among the many things I would have liked to see, was Mariko and Kenshin’s relationship. Siblings’ relationships are one of the things I most enjoy reading about since I’m an only child, and since Mariko and Kenshin are twins I was hoping to get a lot of their relationship. Even though they don’t really interact in the book since they are separated, we get a few hints of how their relationship and their differences might be, but not enough to make me feel whether or not they have a strong bond or not. So this is another reason why I’m disappointed in this book. I’m sure it will be explored more in the second book, but I wish it had been built earlier on.
Another thing that completely failed in my eyes (and it was probably the worst aspect of this book for me) is the romance. At first, I didn’t see who the romance was going to be about. I had some ideas and I was wrong about my first thoughts (don’t worry though, there’s no love triangle). I was actually hoping that for once there would be no romance (even though I’m a sucker for it), because I didn’t really ship anyone. Well,that’s not entirely true, since I did ship a couple that ended up being just a brotp.
(I haven’t seen anyone complain about Ahdieh’s lack of LGBT+ portrayal even though there was none in this or, as far as I remember, in TWATD. I’d be interested to know why we only “attack” certain authors but not others for this, but that’s a discussion that I don’t feel like having in a review)
Anyway, there was no romance for most part of this book, and then it just…was there. And I didn’t feel it. Not only was I not given time to ship it, it also felt boring and I didn’t like how it suddenly happened.
The romance and the discovery of Mariko’s gender are two things that go hand in hand in the book, and it’s something that bothered me endlessly. The way Mariko was finally found out was so over-used and unimaginative that I just couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a lot of potential there and it just vanished within half a scene. I’m so disappointed and pissed. I’d say more but without the option to hide spoilers I don’t want to, though you can read this review on goodreads if you want to open that spoiler tag.
Reading the rest of the romantic plot I felt like I had to turn a blind eye to the fact that I hated the way it developed. Again, there were a couple more nice quotes,
“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”
but I never loved it.
The world building felt quite genuine (although many Japanese terms were used without an explanation – at least not in the ARC version. I think the published book will have some sort of summary at the end like TWATD) but I didn’t get the use of the magic. It was very similar in this to TWATD but it bothered me more. We’re shown a glimpse of magic that is never explained and just confused me. I’m sure it will be explored more in the next book but I don’t like this approach.
I think it’s still worth to give this book a try if you loved TWATD. I might request the ARC of the next book whenever it’s on Netgalley but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing it with my money.