I really didn't know what to expect when I first started reading this book. I'd heard whisperings that it had elements similar to Mulan but it was the setting that really captured my attention. Feudal Japan. I know next to nothing of this time period/place therefore I don't know how historically accurate Renee's portrayal was. However, what I did read was fascinating. Going back to the Mulan comparison. Yes, there are certain aspects of the story that are the same. The female lead pretends to be a man, doesn't want the others to know, has a near miss whilst bathing and begins to care for the man that teaches her to fight. The overriding plot and setting is nothing like Mulan.
One of the aspects in this novel that I adored was how Renee showed that women can be strong in so many different ways. A lot of the time in YA it seems that the female lead is only strong because there is an absence of a male presence in the story. Either that, or its a case of 'I don't need no man'. And yes, that is a form of strength. Another is accepting that sometimes you need to ask for help.
The female lead of this novel isn't valued for her keen, inventive mind but her marital potential. We meet Mariko as she's journeying to meet her future husband, a Prince. Her carriage is attacked but she escapes. Faced with two options she can either return home to her parents, knowing they will simply send her away again or she can attempt to find out who tried to kill her and why. Clearly, she chose the latter option. As a main character I loved her. She was incredibly flawed, very naive and not a natural fighter in any sense. Having grown up in a very privileged household she didn't see the suffering her people faced on a daily basis. A reality she was exposed to by the Black Clan. She grew as a person and faced certain realities. The fact that Mariko struggled initially with the combat skills was so different from most YA novels. IT WAS REALISTIC. No-one becomes a natural fighter overnight. It simply doesn't work like that. I'm glad that finally someone has shown that in a novel.
Ah the Black Clan. A group of Samurai with no master, aka Ronin. Okami how I adore thee. I very much appreciate his stance on women. In fact there were a few male characters with very forward thinking views on women. Mariko's twin brother was no exception. He was without question physically superior but time and time again acknowledged his sisters intelligence. He believed she was alright because he knew of her resourcefulness. That I really appreciated.
The plot its alone was incredibly entertaining and left me wanting more. Mixed with Renee's lyrical writing I thoroughly enjoyed this.
I'll say it now, this will definitely be on my favourite books of 2017.