[Review] A Darkly Beating Heart – Lindsay Smith


Book Title: A Darkly Beating Heart (Standalone)
Author:     Lindsay Smith
Number of pages:  272


a-darkly-beating-heart-book-coverNo 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.

(re: Goodreads @ A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:

– Fluid transitions between contemporary/historical Japan.
– First person narrative feels as though information is withheld from the reader
– Cultural inclusion include English romanization of Japanese phrases and popular items that you would typically see through the eyes of Westerners who are interested in all things “Japanese”

Initial Thoughts

I read up to 60% before marking this book as DNF.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of A DARKLY BEATING HEART from Raincoast Books.



I can’t do it anymore.

Between the conflict, its [apparent] subtext, and events that unfolded in the 100 some-odd pages I read up to, the story just wasn’t giving me enough to connect with the internal strife pounding in the protagonist’s head. That’s what it comes down to. That in a narrative of this length (re: should not drag), the pieces just didn’t enthrall me as it barely unraveled the top layer of the premise.


As a whole, the setting was vividly presented; especially when the contemporary infrastructures blended into its historical past. And though aspects like this might normally have compelled to continue reading — e.g. when the setting thrives as its own character — it was the little things that bugged me.

And maybe I’m not the right person to be assessing the Japanese elements of this story (as I am not Japanese myself) but the caveat to writing a culturally relevant story when taking into context the contemporary and historical accuracy of its setting, is that [I’d imagine] the portrayals of the nuances in mannerisms and social tones during conversation ought to be of consideration. And though the former felt tangible and non stock-like, the dialogue simply felt muddled as if I was following a weeaboo narrator; which is, from Urban Dictionary: “Someone who is obsessed with Japan/Japanese Culture/Anime, etc. and attempts to act as if they were Japanese, even though they’re far from it.”

Look: I empathize with the struggle of not fully understanding your motherland or its native tongue as a natural, fluid, thoughtless reaction in dialogue but the storytelling had continual reminders of what Japanese phrases were more detracting than effective for my reading tastes. Here’s the ridiculous catch-22 though. Would you just say the the Japanese phrases in plain-as-day English (ex. “Thank you”) or is it actually sound to maintain its romanized text (ex. “Arigatou”)? It’s the latter that’s woven into the story that just took away from how it was narrated.


The way I see A Darkly Beating Heart is that it’s a veiled character driven novel overshadowed by the time skips when Reiko transitions into Miyu. But the most difficult thing is that nothing really happens in developing that “anger” and “revenge” narrative that this story so aptly promises — as it ties into suicide and the like. Look, maybe it’s my own projections, but there’s this giant knowledge gap in the “why” and “what she wants to do about it” that’s omitted and feels withheld to the reader of a first person story. It essentially keep the reader in the dark and at arms length that just didn’t work for me to experience the full range of thoughts relating to an internally driven character development.

I’m not assuming to know how other minds operate, but if I’m personally compelled to obsess or something, then like a really catchy melody, I would reiterate it in my head over and over again — and with imagination — would reach even further to unravel that thought further.

It’s great that Reiko subverts the traditional Japanese (or Asian) archetype. She’s bisexual and a step above a tiger-mom in her non-subservience. Yet aside from the anger we’re reminded of continually, there’s not much I can really say of her development during the half of the book I read. It just didn’t really…go anywhere?


In consideration of the above, I wasn’t able to finish Lindsay Smith’s A Darkly Beating Heart despite being 60% through. It just didn’t grip me as much as I had expected with the feeling of information being withheld being a deterrent to fully immersing me into her struggles.


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10 thoughts on “[Review] A Darkly Beating Heart – Lindsay Smith”

  1. You did a really good job explaining why you didn’t finish this one. It sounded frustrating. After reading your review, I kind of want to look up spoilers and see if what she’s keeping from you in her narrative comes out. That’s just me being curious, though.


  2. This is a very well-written and convincing review. I feel like I’ve read (half of) the book already, without wasting the couple hours it would’ve taken. So, thanks for that!

    If you ever do come across a review written by a Japanese blogger, kindly point it out; I’d love to see their thoughts on how their culture is portrayed.


    1. My critiques pale in comparison to the caliber of yours, Liam!

      I actually would like to talk to a Japanese reader and see what their take is on the representation of their own culture on paper (e.g. if they would get ticked at the same things that I did). However, I’m pretty much resuming the role of “let me pretend I didn’t have to spend time reading/writing this review”, so I do doubt I’d really come across someone of that position.

      Might I ask if some of your interests lie in Japanese culture and the like?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They most certainly do not. =)

        Can’t blame you for not seeking out additional reviews. You have (hopefully) better, more enjoyable things to spend your time on.

        Okay, I’ll confess: I’m kind of an armchair historian/anthropologist, and Japan is one of the (many) cultures on my Most Intrigued By list. (The bottom half of my enormous bookshelves are devoted to nonfiction books, most of which are about history and culture.)

        There are so many books written by (say) white American authors but set in other cultures, and I’m eternally disappointed by how hard it is to find reviewers from those cultures who discuss how their culture is portrayed (both what the author got wrong and right). Oh, well.


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