ARC Review: A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith


A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.
No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

**I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**


This book is dark and strange and while I had a few issues with it, it is one of those 3 star books that is unique enough to recommend to those who are interested in the premise. The story follows Reiko, an angry, depressed Japanese-American teenager who moves to Japan for the summer to ‘work out her emotions.’ Reiko is an extremely dark character, she’s been hardened by some of her more traumatizing experiences and is quick to react with anger to any situation. We learn about her past as her narrative continues, but we learn that most of this trauma comes from being scorned by Chloe, a past girlfriend, and her estranged relationship with her brother. In Japan, Reiko travels to the historical village of Kuramagi with her cousin Akiko and her budding J-pop band to attend a festival. Hellbent on revenge, Reiko wants to ruin Akiko’s time in Kurumagi and it is also insinuated that she will commit suicide. As she creates her plan she simultaneously finds herself slipping back in time to 19th century Japan in the life of Miyu. She finds the Miyu is just as keen on revenge as Reiko and both of these stories unfold over the course of the book.

Reiko is an intriguing character. From the beginning of the book I could tell she is not your normal love-scorned teenager. She is much darker than that and most of her imaginary scenarios involved bloody, destructive revenge. Her thoughts were so dark and disturbing that I think she may have had other issues before all of the emotional trauma with Chloe and her family. While I found it hard to relate to her, I was intrigued by her character and wanted to learn more about her thoughts and desires, as disturbing as they were. For a while, I couldn’t even tell if the entire storyline with Miyu was even real or if it was just Reiko’s imagination.

Some aspects of this book were incredibly unique and refreshing to read. I enjoyed the insight into the Japanese landscape and culture in both present day and 19th century Japan. Smith’s writing was colorful and imaginative and at times I felt like I was right there with Reiko in the strange village of Kuramagi. Reiko is also a bisexual character and I really like how directly and candidly it was explored in the book.

I also like the way the time travel was handled, it was subtle and more of a ‘slipping back and forth’ between time so we got to experience dual story lines. The mechanism of time travel is only vaguely explained so the entire book had a certain mystical, mysterious quality to it. Miyu’s character is also extremely interesting. She lives in 19th century Japan during the shogunate rule in militarized Japan. Miyu is treated poorly by her family and the entire village, but we do not learn why she is so hated until the very end. Her story absolutely had me guessing and it was both thrilling and disconcerting to read. 

While the story was intriguing, the climax and ending was too abrupt for me. I had so many questions throughout the book and suddenly everything was answered and the story ended. The book was delightfully bloody, vengeful and disturbing so I had a problem with all of the loose ends being tied up so neatly. I also have a hard time with the idea that Reiko is just going to go back to living normal life. I wish there was more of an explanation after the climax and this unfortunately seriously hindered my overall enjoyment of the book. While it was unique, I don’t think this will be one of my most memorable reads. 

Overall, this book was an interesting read and I encourage you to try it out if the premise intrigues you. While I did give it three stars, I do think this book will really appeal to some readers.



6 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith”

  1. Oh nO! I was going back & forth with the idea of requesting this one next because of the Japanese landscape & premise. However, there really isn’t anything that I dislike more than neat & abrupt ending especially when you’ve gone through it with your main protagonist. This was an AMAZING review Alex! Sucks that it could’ve been a Better read if it weren’t for the ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! I still think it’s worth the read. Sometimes when I give a 3 star rating I wouldn’t recommend it but this book was so unique in a lot of ways that I think everyone who’s interested should give it a chance. It’s a pretty quick read as well! I loved the Japanese landscape and culture we got to learn about, and Reiko is a great anti-heroine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea I was immediately pulled in by that cover & synopsis. Its so rare that we get a setting in Japan that I was convinced this was for me but I did wait because I wanted to read some reviews 1st. I’m going to think about reading this one cuz some of my worse reads have been because of tidy endings. Either way, you covered it so well 💕

        Liked by 1 person

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