It’s out of the outlaw forest and into the imperial court in this conclusion of a fantasy duology set in an alternate feudal Japan.
Newly “rescued” from the Black Clan, Hattori Mariko returns to the path her noble family prescribes, affianced to the brother of the new Emperor of Wa. Mariko resolves to play the meek, dutiful maiden (even if that requires actually marrying brutal Raiden) in order to spy for the rebels and possibly rescue her beloved Okami. But with dark powers threatening everything Mariko cherishes, her cleverness may not be enough. With admirable brio, Ahdieh (Flame in the Mist, 2017, etc.) serves up intrigues and counterintrigues, battles and betrayals, harrowing scenes of graphic torture and interludes of heated romance, conveyed through no fewer than seven viewpoints. Nuanced female characters drive the action, including a gratifyingly matured Mariko: less preternaturally ingenious but more intelligent and aware; less insistent upon honor but unshakable in her integrity. Unfortunately, the choppy, overwrought prose again substitutes a deluge of Japanese vocabulary for thoughtful worldbuilding. The magical system, while clarified, still fails to fully explore its implications. Eventually the snarl of complicated schemes lurches to a rushed climax—entangling a (clichéd) lunatic villain, an (implausible) heel-face turn, and a (no, really!) weaponized zombie apocalypse—followed by a discordant epilogue littered with jaunty romantic banter and abandoned plotlines.
Absolutely necessary to those who loved the first; otherwise mostly incoherent. (Fantasy. 12-18)