When Hattori Mariko is on her way to the capital to marry the prince – the task she was born to do, no matter her smarts or skills – her convoy is attacked en route, and Mariko is the only survivor. It’s clear that whoever did it wanted Mariko dead, but why? And who were they? The obvious answer would be the Black Clan, but they don’t attack women or children, even if they are travelling through the forest the gang inhabits. Determined to find the answer to prove her worth as a woman, she dresses in boy’s clothes and infiltrates the Black Clan.
Though the story is told primarily from Mariko and Kenshin’s points of view, other characters are given a voice for select chapters. This adds a layer of intrigue, and the many twists and turns in the novel leave it open for a sequel. The prose is elegant and descriptive, and it’s apparent much research was put into life in feudal Japan. As the story progresses, Mariko grows bolder and surer of herself, while Kenshin begins to second guess himself. However, this story may leave the reader disappointed to find romance in it. Mariko is a heroine who can stand on her own without needing a male counterpart. The Asian setting is refreshing, but the romance is unwelcome. If you’re in the market for historical fiction in a nontraditional setting that has a great female lead, some action, and a dash of political intrigue, this one’s for you.