In a historical fantasy inspired by feudal Japan, the daughter of aristocrats finds a place among sort-of-ninjas akin to Robin Hood’s band.
Hattori Mariko, barely 17, is resentful but resigned to an imperial marriage. When her caravan is waylaid, she seizes the chance to become something else. Disguised as a boy, she infiltrates the notorious Black Clan to investigate why they undertook her murder; but she is not prepared for the secrets she uncovers…especially about herself. Ahdieh’s follow-up to her superlative two-part Arabian Nights retelling, The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) and The Rows and the Dagger (2016), is equally rich in legendary glamour and again features convoluted political intrigue and star-crossed romance between a clever heroine and brooding hero. Unfortunately, the author’s extensive research results less in a sensuous, subtly constructed background than in obtrusive dumps of vocabulary and exposition. Truncated paragraphs and sentence fragments are overused to simulate dramatic tension. Mariko constantly complains of sexist oppression, but the story shows her held back mostly by her own vacillation. She is, however, amazingly ingenious, inventing an entire arsenal of ninja-style weaponry in a matter of weeks. The hints of magic are frustratingly arbitrary and vague, and the motives of the villain(s?) utterly opaque right up to the cliffhanger ending.
This story (and sequels) will undoubtedly enthrall readers seeking a torrid, tortured romance in a trendy setting; still, a disappointment from an author capable of so much more. (Fantasy. 12-adult)