No spoilers in this rapid review of Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh. I give it 3 stars. I think it’s a good book but not necessarily a great one. The story moved at a leisurely pace. I listened to the audiobook, and my mind wandered a bit as I listened. Yet I never felt like I was behind in the overall storyline; I didn’t have to skip back to see what I missed. Nevertheless, Ahdieh did a good job of answering the questions I had from book one, Flame in the Mist, and of wrapping up this series.
In this sequel, Okami has been imprisoned in the capitol city for crimes against the crown. Mariko has agreed to marry the sovereign’s brother Raiden, the man she was engaged to at the beginning of Flame, in hopes of saving Okami. Soon she’s immersed in the machinations of the royal court. It’s a life she wasn’t sure she wanted when she still lived at home. It’s a life she’s now certain she doesn’t want after living among the Black Clan and falling in love with Okami.
The one bright spot in life at the palace is Raiden, who treats Mariko better than she ever dreamed. He even seems to be falling in love with her. But is it all an act? And, whether his feelings are true or not, can she use his affection to her advantage to help save the man she truly loves? This is all set against the backdrop of an empire in turmoil, with threats from within the palace walls and without.
Even though the story moved rather slowly and struggled to hold my attention, there was plenty to enjoy. Ahdieh’s descriptive writing style gave me a clear picture of the people, landscape, and city. And she set the story in a fascinating feudal Asian culture. I loved its order, elegance, and beauty as well as the rigor and discipline of its people.
I also liked all of Mariko and Okami’s interactions. The tension between them in Flame was fun, and even the tough scenes between them in Smoke were delightful. I also enjoyed any scene in which Raiden was present. He surprised me—I think he even surprised himself at times—and his character arc was one of the most pleasing of the series.
There were a few times near the end of the story that I was wrestling with whether Ahdieh would give us a happy ending or a bittersweet one. I had an inner debate going on, always back and forth about which way Ahdieh was leading me and how I wanted it to end. (Yes, I often enjoy bittersweet over happy.) I finally thought I had it figured out only to soon discover I was wrong. But the ending was fitting and satisfying anyway.
I prefer Ahdieh’s Wrath and the Dawn series to this one, and in both of her series I prefer the first book to the second. Nevertheless, her prose is beautiful, and this splendid culture is worth reading about. If you haven’t read any of Ahdieh’s work, I would recommend starting with The Wrath and the Dawn. If you’ve read Flame, I definitely recommend finishing out the series with Smoke. You’ll want to see how Mariko’s story wraps up, and overall I think you’ll enjoy it.
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