Title: Flame in the Mist (2017)
Series: Flame in the Mist – Book 1
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 400 pages
Release Date: May 18, 2017
Mariko has always known that being a woman means she’s not in control of her own fate. But Mariko is the daughter of a prominent samurai and a cunning alchemist in her own right, and she refuses to be ignored. When she is ambushed by a group of bandits known as the Black Clan enroute to a political marriage to Minamoto Raiden – the emperor’s son – Mariko realises she has two choices: she can wait to be rescued… or she can take matters into her own hands, hunt down the clan and find the person who wants her dead.
Disguising herself as a peasant boy, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan’s hideout and befriends their leader, the rebel ronin Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, Okami. Ranmaru and Okami warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. But as Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets that will force her to question everything she’s ever known.
I’ve been looking forward to Flame in the Mist ever since I finished The Rose and the Dagger last year. Shazi and Khalid’s love story was one I happily immersed myself in, and I loved every word and enjoyed every minute of it — which is why I was supremely disappointed, to say the least, that Flame in the Mist didn’t quite manage to captivate me in the same way.
This is the story of Mariko Hattori, a nobleman’s daughter who infiltrates a gang of bandits by disguising herself as a boy. Surprisingly capable and tough, she finds herself rising through the ranks and earning the trust of two of the gang’s most important people. Of course, that leads to a whole host of new problems.
“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
For me, Flame in the Mist was a bit of a chore to get through. Despite some of the action starting right off the bat, I found myself uninterested in the plot or the characters until about the 60% percent mark, after which it’s a little bit too late for the book to really engage me. A lot of this is probably because I didn’t find being in Mariko’s head a natural thing — a lot of her decisions didn’t make sense to me, and I was skeptical of her thought processes.
The second reason why I didn’t find this book all that enjoyable, unfortunately, was that I found the writing to be a bit of a disappointment. In TWATD, Ahdieh’s writing was luminous — it flowed well, it was descriptive without being too flowery, it was rich and evocative — but here, I found it choppy and forced. Her descriptions were still beautiful, but somehow, it just felt a bit much.
“Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain. And you can do anything…”
That doesn’t mean that Flame in the Mist is all bad, however. I’ve read somewhere that this was a Mulan retelling, but I find that to be inaccurate — the similarities stop at “girl pretends she’s a boy to join a group of men” and after that, it’s really more of an original story with its own twists and turns. That, at least, keeps it somewhat interesting when things finally picked up.
Overall not a terrible read, but not quite what I expected with Ahdieh’s name on the cover! I appreciate the feminist angle and the world-building, but the characters and the plot let me down, and at this point, I’m not sure I’m interested enough to ever pick up the sequel.
* I received an ARC of FLAME IN THE MIST from the publisher via NetGalley.