Renee Ahdieh unveils a stunning conclusion in SMOKE IN THE SUN!
Reading a book is one thing, but listening to it is a completely different sensory experience. Thanks to Penguin Random House audio, we had a chance to check out the audiobook edition of Renee Ahdieh‘s Smoke In The Sun, sequel to 2017’s Flame In The Mist, narrated by Nancy Wu!
Flame In the Mist was character-driven and moved at a slower pace, but it left us invested and in a tizzy over that jaw-dropping cliffhanger. Smoke In The Sun picks up right after the events of the first novel, as Mariko arrives in Heian castle to find Prince Roku newly crowned as the emperor after the suspicious death of his father and both royal princes unsure about what to do with her. They assume she’s been “sullied” by the Black Clan, but she’s determined to convince them otherwise. Letting them see even a hint of her connection to Okami (aka Takada Ranmaru, son of the empire’s greatest “traitor”) will surely result in his death and possibly hers as well. Instead, Mariko and Okami play a careful, painstaking game of deceit meant to earn Mariko the trust of the royal family and avoid Okami’s execution.
Meanwhile, Asano Tsuneoki (formerly believed to be Ranmaru) is swelling the ranks of the Black Clan and working toward a plan to end the reign of the royals. But when a mysterious disease begins to affect prominent families and their servants, they may have a more immediate problem to deal with.
While I found Flame In The Mist a little too slow at times, Smoke In The Sun was back to the Renee Ahdieh form I knew and loved from The Rose and The Dagger series. While not necessarily action-packed throughout, there was much more build-up, more political intrigue, and far higher stakes this time around. There was never really any concern that Mariko was in true danger with The Black Clan, but Emperor Roku is vicious, cunning, and unafraid of consequences, and his brother Prince Raiden is his loyal servant. The early sections of this book have enough mind games to really get your heart pumping, interspersed with bursts of daring action. As the characters grow increasingly desperate, so does the entire vibe on the novel, taking you right along with it.
Smoke also affords the reader more time to really learn how the characters tick. The novel has a pretty even distribution of secondary characters and we get to see more of Yumi and Kenshin, among others, along with adding lots of depth to the princes and their mothers. You see why they do the things they do, even if those things are terrible. If there’s a drop of empathy to be had for any character, you’ll feel it for them.
It all leads up to a show-stopping conclusion where everything clicks into place beautifully with action, intrigue, romance, big reveals, and twists. If you love a clean, satisfying ending, you’re going to be quite pleased.
The audiobook is solely narrated by Nancy Yu, who has a slightly breathy, rhythmic voice that I found very relaxing. I did struggle with her various voices for the characters, however. The female characters didn’t have much variation and for some reason, giving Roku– a snobby, dramatic character– a more feminine tone didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it’s meant to show immaturity, but it felt like a twisted statement.
Overall, I was really happy with the story and it’s ramped up intrigue, as well as some of the most compelling characters I’ve read in a while! Even if Flame In The Mist was slow for you too, Smoke In The Sun more than makes up for it.
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice—to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.
With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.