Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Digital Audiobook narrated by Nancy Wu
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on May 16, 2017
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Genres: Fantasy, Retellings, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 392 pages or 10 hours, 19 minutes
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The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt 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.
I genuinely appreciated this book.
I can’t say anything for the rep, and I have to admit that I am not particularly familiar with Mulan’s story outside of the Disney movie… but there were many details about this story that I thoroughly appreciated.
First of all, I loved the change in setting. I read a lot of Western European-inspired fantasies – and still I love those! – but it’s good to have a bit of variety. The more books there are like Flame in the Mist, the more people can find themselves in these books… and honestly, I can only take so much of knights and kingdoms. I’m definitely trying to mix in more Eastern Europe and Asian-inspired fantasies… and African and Caribbean, where I can find them. I really really enjoyed so many aspects of Flame in the Mist, and its setting was one of the things that was really refreshing for me.
But it wasn’t just the change in the scenery… it was the way Renée Ahdieh wrote it. She describes things in a beautiful, abbreviated manner. I never felt like this writing was too flowery, but I enjoyed the moments she took to show a little details for things like the silk on the walls or the dirt on a characters hands. Renée Ahdieh’s style shone the most when she described food. It’s a little thing, but sometimes it’s so nice to have food in a book?
Okay, I am fooling nobody. Food in books is always fabulous.
The beautiful thing about having this aspect of a different culture is that I’m American, and the recipes and types of food that Mariko experiences are different than what I eat normally, so those little details helped the book come to life.
So far, I’ve only talked about the writing style. Let it be known that as far as writing goes, I am a fan of Renée Ahdieh. It’s what stood out to me most in this novel, but the story was pretty good too.
I’m a wolf. I’m totally ready to jump on a book if it starts being super cliche, or cheesy, or I’ve simply decided I don’t like it. There were probably five of six places in Flame in the Mist where I bared my teeth and prepared to pounce. I was ready. It’s a story about a girl who pretends to be a boy for revenge, then ends up entangled with a group of warriors that despite all else, she respects. Then she falls in love.
I really expected the “falling in love” bit to ruin the plot.
I’m a terrible cynic, but hear me out. So many books let love stories override the action plot. Why should Flame in the Mist be any different? There were moments where Mariko let herself get distracted by heart pangs and googley eyes, but I was surprised and relieved to find that the Great Problems always snapped back into focus. Love stories are fine and good, but lets not allow them to override things like political coups and war and invasions, yeah?
Mariko is a surprisingly single-minded character, a trait I appreciated. She went in for revenge, and she spends a lot of time thinking about revenge. She’s also very confident about who she is and what she wants, so much so that it’s pleasantly jarring when she learns she’s overestimated herself. My only real complaint about the characters and the dialogue is repetition. For example, I loved that Mariko was always thinking about revenge, but some of the details around that drive were repeated every time. I know why she wants revenge. I know what she thinks happened. I don’t need a recap every time she readjusts her focus back to revenge. In that way, I felt the story could have been trimmed down a little, and it would have picked up the pacing.
All in all, an interesting story in a refreshing world. I like the way the story is written, I like that it’s such a different story, and I like the girl power trope because HONESTLY that’s one of my favorite things anyway. Some scenes shine brighter than others, but as a package, it’s quite good. I think that fans of Mirage will enjoy this one, as well as Tamora Pierce’s fans (particularly those who love Kel).