As its title conveys, Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh swirls with mystery and pulses with energy in equal measure.  A sequel to Flame in the Mist, this companion novel completes the stories of Yumi and Mariko, fiercely independent and competent women with formidable intelligence in a world that expects its females to be submissive, obedient, and coy.

Set in Japan at a time when samurai, daiyo, and shōguns defended with honor, this fantasy-adventure focuses not only on the shifting allegiances and political intrigue of the Emperor’s court, but also on other social issues troubling the kingdom.  

As a member of the Black Clan, a resistance force responding to acts of injustice from the Empire of Wa, Mariko has a plan to champion those less fortunate.  She resents the strange shows of power and the secrets and deceit of the Imperial Court, where shiftless nobles seem more intent on lining their pockets and gaining influence than on treating others with dignity and fairness.  In order to bring about the lasting change she envisions, however, Hattori Mariko may lose those she holds dear: both her brother—Kenshin, the Dragon of Kai—and her beloved—Ōkami, the son of the last shōgun.

Kenshin is one of the most famed warriors in the empire, but he is at odds with his twin sister whose deceit he views as treachery.  Mariko is conflicted by his treatment of her because he is family, and no matter how much they differ—how at odds they are in both attitude and agenda—she doesn’t wish to hurt him. Both Kenshin and Ōkami will have to decide whether they wish to be heroes of legend or men of the people and whether they will fight for greatness or for goodness.

The kingdom’s union may also mean Mariko’s marriage to Raiden, a man Mariko does not love nor hold in high regard.  But Mariko considers such a marriage a small price to pay if it paves the way to greater opportunities and if it allows her larger plans to come to fruition, a plan where love—not fear—inspires loyalty.  Mariko’s experiences have taught her that every person has a story to tell, “and for every person, that story is the most important one” (203).  Mariko wishes to be the kind of person who never uses others for personal gain.

Although Raiden and Roku are half-brothers who were taught hostility and enmity for one another, they have forged a lasting friendship.  Upon the death of their father, Minamoto Masaru, Roku—the younger brother, a creature of ingenuity whose weakness is courage—steps into the leadership role as emperor, but he is a ruler of fickleness, unfairness, and suffering. To challenge his brother’s authority would be treason, but Raiden, a creature of industry and strength, finds his brother’s hostility and desire to control with fear repugnant.  Raiden knows the strength in consultation and shares Mariko’s feelings about the unfairness of suffering.  He also learns that feeling pain and sorrow are not signs of weakness but signs of love.

Two other forces working against those seeking justice in the face of unceasing mistreatment are vengeance and magic.  Raiden’s mother, Kanako—the emperor’s consort—has known injustice her entire life, and her magical interference in the Empire of Wa may cause its destruction.

Through her principle characters, Ahdieh suggests that a life absent of purpose is not a life worth living.  Her novel is one rich with morals and lessons about what it means to be a hero and how true freedom comes when we distance ourselves from comparison.

  • Posted by Donna

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