Smoke in the Sun: Flame in the Mist, Book 2

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Smoke in the Sun: Flame in the Mist, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Less compelling sequel still a must-read for fans.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Bushido/samurai code, and some of the cultural norms of feudal imperial Japan: how people are subject to the emperor's whims and how his court works with consorts/courtesans and ranking members of nobility as well as the samurai.

Positive Messages

Several positive messages about gender and class. Makes the case that societies shouldn't oppress or limit women's roles to wives, courtesans, mothers. Also explores how feudal systems keep majority of population oppressed. Teamwork, solidarity, loyalty are all praised.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Women in the book make it clear they're clever, capable, fierce. Mariko in particular is brave, scheming, uncompromising in her mission to save Okami. One character is revealed to be LGBTQ, but he's not discriminated against, although he's not-so-secretly in love with his straight best friend. Okami and the Black Clan are examples of how resistance movements bring people together to stand up to oppression.

Violence

Several scenes of violent confrontation and torture. A character's torture is described in detail, and his bruised, injured, marred body left near death. Characters die from sword battle, fire, poisoning, a supernatural plague that turns people into zombie-like creatures, and executions. Innocent people die at the hands of the emperor, who is ruthless, bloodthirsty.

Sex

A young woman's purity (or lack thereof) is discussed several times. A couple goes through with an arranged marriage but doesn't consummate it. A character recalls the physical intimacy she enjoyed with her true love. A couple engages in a sexual act that's described in vague terms.

Language

A few insults: "whore," "son of a whore," "bitch," "coward," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few scenes of characters drinking sake and other Japanese liquor. One character begins to drink to forget his past sins/mistakes. Characters drug or poison other characters with their tea or alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Smoke in the Sun: Flame in the Mist, Book 2 is the final book in author Renée Ahdieh's Flame in the Mist duology, which is a twist on the Mulan tale. There's quite a bit of violence in the story: torture, poisoning, execution, sword use, and supernatural possession. People are driven to madness and despair by a seemingly unstoppable plague. Several supporting characters are injured and killed. There's definitely romance in the book, but the circumstances don't allow the couple to be together except for two brief scenes -- one of which is steamy but not graphic. One character consistently drinks to the point of excess to dull the memories of his past mistakes. Readers who enjoyed the first book will want to read this follow-up.

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What's the story?

SMOKE IN THE SUN: FLAME IN THE MIST, BOOK 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first book: with Okami imprisoned in the custody of the sadistic Emperor of Wa and his second-in-command brother, Raiden. And Mariko is pretending to have been Okami's unwilling hostage instead of his collaborator and love. As Mariko's engagement to Raiden is upheld and a wedding date set, she sacrifices everything to help Okami avoid execution. Meanwhile, what's left of Okami's Black Clan also attempts to break him out of the emperor's clutches, while Mariko's twin brother, Kenshin, who's in service to the emperor, deals with his suspicions about Mariko's true allegiances.

Is it any good?

This sequel might have been better off as a trilogy, because it rushes to answer some questions while ignoring others, but it's still a must-read for all who loved the first book. Smoke in the Sun may not be as compelling a read, but author Renée Ahdieh does flesh out Mariko's growth into an independent young woman who knows who she is, who she loves, and what she's willing to sacrifice -- and do -- for the greater good. Mariko and Okami are kept apart for most of the story, separated by his literal imprisonment and her figurative imprisonment as the emperor's future sister-in-law. While Okami is tortured and taunted, Mariko must hide her true feelings toward her supposed captor and play the role of a proper bride to be. Her development from book to book is remarkable.

What's unsatisfying about this installment is that Ahdieh attempts to do way too much. Between Raiden's mother's magical powers, the sickness spreading across the land, the emperor's descent into psychopathy, the inner workings of court intrigue, and the Black Clan's rebel plans, there's a lot to digest, and most of it isn't fully explored or resolved. By the final act, a few characters' about-faces and other plot points seem too conveniently and neatly wrapped up to be believable. Ahdieh's writing is poetic and lyrical at its best, but it can occasionally cross over into overwrought. While worth reading, this series could've done with some tighter editing or even an extra book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various relationships in Smoke in the Sun. Which ones did you find most intriguing? Why? 

  • What do you think about the violence in the book? Does realistic violence affect you differently than fantasy violence?

  • How does this book address themes of historical sexism and caste discrimination? Do you consider Mariko a feminist heroine? Why?

  • Do you like how this duology ends? Would you like more about the characters beyond the epilogue?

Book details

  • Author: Renee Ahdieh
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Topics: Friendship
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Publication date: June 5, 2018
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
  • Number of pages: 408
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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