Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist Series, Book 1) by Renée Ahdieh
Synopsis: The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.
About the Author: Renée Ahdieh is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.
Genre: young adult, fantasy, romance
More Info: hardcover, 416 pages, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16, 2017
Just like The Wrath and the Dawn (also by Renée Ahdieh)(review) I read this book within 24 hours. The release date was May 16, 2017, I bought the book on the morning of the 16th, and finished it on the morning of the 17th.
First, the cover is gorgeous!
Second, this novel is set in Feudal Japan and filled with Asian history. Samurai warriors followed the “Way of the Warrior” (Bushidô), a system of honor and loyalty. Weapons, clothes, food, etc. represent Japanese culture. There is a fight for political power with the emperor, head of military, lords, and peasants. The manipulation and betrayal of the past generation impacts the lives of the main characters in Flame in the Mist. There are so many vocabulary words that there is an index at the back of the book.
Third, the world-building is based off of the setting but contains a hint of magic, as well. Ahdieh’s writing was painting beautiful picture in my head; the most vivid aspect for me was the Black Clan’s camp in the Jukai forest. Places the the “haunted” forest contain blood-sucking vine trees and nightbeasts. The characters too contain some magical powers. However, these elements are not explained in detail—they simply exist, like magical realism.
Fourth, the characters are shrouded in mystery. Mariko is a daughter of a lord, raised to be a marital pawn. She seems accepting of her fate in the beginning, but after someone attempts to kill her, she takes her life into her own hands. Her agency leads her to the Black Clan, the dangerous group of thieves who she suspected had tried to murder her. To fight against the patriarchy and escape female constrictions, she disguises herself as a boy. Mariko is not physically powerful since she never trained with her Samurai brother or father. But she is strong in spirit and mind. Mariko is an inventive and intelligent.
She meets the gang and is sucked into their world. There is the leader of the Black Clan, a determined problem-solver. He is also the best friend to Ōkami. In return, Ōkami is loyal to his leader. They have a long, hard past together that both bonds them and silently rips them apart. There is also Yoshi, the kind-hearted, one-legged cook. Ren is Mariko’s tormentor, but he is also plagued by his own demons. There are other members, but only a few are explicitly mentioned in the book. Readers get some of their history, but not nearly enough. There is so much baggage to be uncovered, especially for Ōkami. For this reason, I didn’t feel very connected to anyone other than Mariko. I never felt the urge to fangirl over the characters and relationships like I usually do with well-developed characters. I have hope for book 2 that I will become more invested in their lives.
All of the characters have some incredibly philosophical conversations. They play off of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Mariko realizes the Black Clan is much more than she expected: protectors and family. Also, by the last 2/3 of the novel, a romance develops. It is a somewhat silent relationship. The couple is not flaunted in the book, but the occasional thoughts and desires between them made me grin. With a hate to love trope, the love is burning and content. The only drawback was how fast-paced the relationship came about. I blinked and they went from glares of hatred to glances of longing. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Fifth, this book includes some serious self-discovery and feminism. Mariko finds that she longs for freedom. Freedom of her body, her mind, and her actions. She find this freedom through her experiences and relationships. The characters also talk about feminine restrictions. Mariko, as a woman, belongs to herself and has her own power. I think Cait from A Page with a View put the strength of women best in her Flame in the Mist review.
Sixth. The ending was not really an ending. It’s like Netflix buffering in the middle of a movie. I want more! Thank goodness there is second book.
vague plot spoiler in last section
Lastly, there is one reason I almost didn’t give this book five/five. Mariko doesn’t achieve the one thing she set out to accomplish!!! There is still a gaping hole in her understanding of who tried to kill her. Readers can assume and maybe this will be addressed in the Court intrigue in book two, but I feel like the book loses some of its power. Like I said, the finale is like a bridge to the next book, which is the reason I can forgive this plot gap.
Otherwise, there was never much of a dull moment. I was captured the whole way through the book. The book was written in third person and shifted between a myriad of characters, which was somewhat disorienting. While some books evenly split the attention between the main personas, this book stayed focused on Mariko, and then her brother. Because of this, I did not start skimming over sections to get back to the protagonist that interested me most (like I do in some novels 🙈). Finally, this book is a separate entity from the Wrath and the Dawn series. Yet, if you liked Flame in the Mist, I would recommend The Wrath and the Dawn.
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