My rating in stars: 4 stars
My rating in words: I really liked it!
What it’s about:
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.
My thoughts (spoiler-free):
“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…”
Flame in the Mist is pitched as “Mulan retelling meets 47 Ronin” and while that definitely drew me in, make no mistake: Flame in the Mist is so, so much more than that. Set in Feudal Japan (not the China of Mulan), the only big, crucial thing Flame in the Mist has in common with Mulan is a girl pretending to be a boy. Other than that, Flame in the Mist is its’ own original, delicious self.
Let me start off this review by applauding the writing. If you’ve read The Wrath and The Dawn, you’re already familiar with Renee Ahdieh’s beautiful writing style, and Flame in the Mist is just as exquisitely written. The writing is detailed, poetic and lush and every scene feels so vivid it’s almost like watching a movie. Every breath-taking sight, every mouth-watering taste, every exquisite smell and every soft touch feels so real and I can only praise Renee for her gorgeous writing.
This writing style really helps the world come to life. Though we don’t get every detail yet, the world still feels so real and well-developed. I’ve always had an interest in Feudal Japan, and this world feels like the perfect mix of the realistic and the magical. Because it’s not just a historical fiction, there are magical elements to this world that are slowly unveiled while still retaining a lot of mystery for book two.
The cast of characters is pretty big, but each and every one of them is super intriguing and well-written. Mariko was quite an interesting character as she’s not your typical strong or skilled fighter, but she’s really smart and cunning. Her curiosity is her most defining character trait and though I didn’t always like her or her choices, I still really appreciated her as an original main character. The other members of the Black Clan are pretty important too, and though we don’t go as deep into all the characters, we do learn enough about a few of them to quickly endear them to us. And other characters, such as Kenshin (Mariko’s brother), Yumi and even the Emperor and his family are all intriguing in their own way and it’s been great getting to know each of them a bit (some even with their own POV).
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, Flame in the Mist is so much more than what you get out of the blurb or the Mulan-pitch. I can’t even go into this too much without spoiling, but let’s just say that the story is full of twists and turns and though a few tropes may be present, overall it was still highly original and unpredictable. A few scenes had me gasping out loud, because, boy, I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING! In the same vein, can I just mention that the ending is evil and the fact that the wait for book two is still about a year, is killing me?
What else killed me in this book? The romance. We have a lovely enemies-to-lovers romance going on in here that is swoony and hot and the chemistry is AMAZING! The banter, the glares, the mutual respect,… Everything about this couple made me ship it, and ship it hard!
The pacing is the only thing that felt a bit off to me and that’s the main reason why I didn’t give this 5 stars. I felt like this book should have been a bit longer, because certain plot points felt too rushed for me and that kind of took me out of the story. For example, Mariko’s inclusion into the Black Clan felt too quick. The building of trust in eachother, for both parties, did not take long enough for me. And I had the same problem with the romance. It wasn’t there and then suddenly it just was. This does not mean that 1) I didn’t ABSOLUTELY ADORE it and 2) I didn’t SHIP THE ROMANCE LIKE CRAZY. Yes, I wished the pacing had been better. I wish certain story arcs were given more time and had been developed just a bit better. But at the end of the day, I still enjoyed everything about this book immensely. So yes, it has issues, but also, I don’t care. It’s just that good.
In conclusion, despite a few minor issues, I adored Flame in the Mist. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Japanese mythology, Feudal Japan, gorgeous writing and swoon-worthy romance.
“I believe the stars align so souls can find one another. Whether they are meant to be souls in love or souls in life remains to be seen.”
“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”
“Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving. Remain motionless—remain unyielding—and you are as good as dead.
Death follows indecision, like a twisted shadow. Fall forward. Keep moving. Even if you must pick yourself up first.”