Synopsis: 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 won an advance uncorrected galley of this title in a giveaway hosted by Indigo Teen (@indigoteen) on Twitter.
Flame in the Mist came highly recommended by a variety of book bloggers and booktubers, so when I won a copy of it I knew I had to dive in as soon as possible. Many have compared this story to the likeness of a retelling of Mulan, but while the stories have somewhat similar plot points, it is clear that Flame in the Mist goes a bit deeper into the ramifications of its main character’s choices.
The story follows 17-year-old Mariko, the daughter of a prominent samurai and twin sister of the famous Dragon of Kai. As many girls in the past, she is expected to marry one of the sons of the emperor as a way to solidify alliances and elevate her father’s standing within the ruling daimyo class. Mariko is passionate about science and uses her wits and knowledge to bring to life little inventions like little portable lanterns and later on more robust projects. As expected, she is not happy with the path paved for her life by her family and the varying expectations that come with it.
Mariko’s fate is ultimately changed when her convoy is attacked on route to her betrothed. She escapes and finds herself infiltrating the Black Clan to find answers under the disguise of a young boy after a rushed transformation in the middle of Jakai forest. She quickly cuts off her long hair and ditches her delicate garments for a ragged outfit, a la Mulan.
While under this disguise, Mariko is able to learn more about the Black Clan and somewhat understand their true motives. Her goal is to win their trust in order to learn more about their secrets and finally understand why they attempted to murder her.
The book is written in a few different points of view, between Mariko, her twin brother and one of the leaders of the Black Clan.
I throughly enjoyed Ahdieh’s writing, especially her depiction of Mariko as a character. She is written in a feisty, intelligent and humurous way which translates into a great example of a resourceful and strong female protagonist. Mariko makes do with what she has, saves a few lives, impresses those around her and begins to unwind the mystery around the Black Clan all while hiding her true identity.
As expected within this trope (this is not a spoiler), Mariko’s secret is eventually discovered and it was very entertaining to see how she was able to use this twist of events to her advantage.
Another great aspect of the story is the incredible world building done by Ahdieh. The author uses a variety of Japanese terms throughout the story which add a layer of dimension and credibility to Mariko’s voice. My specific copy of this book (ARC) did not have a glossary, which would have been helpful during the reading experience for terms that I was not able to understand based on the context alone. However, there is a section at the end titled Glossary, so I image the final copy of this title will provide it to readers.
What lowered my overall enjoyment of this book is that although I understand it is part of a series and thus requires more time to be fully developed, the book in itself felt slightly incomplete. The final chapters offer some insight into the “villain” of the story and leaves the reader with a variety of questions about them. This is usually something I enjoy in a book but this cliffhanger felt like it was missing further development.
Some important secrets were also revealed in the final chapters which I hope will be further developed with the plot of the next books. Otherwise, it felt like too soon of a reveal for some of the character’s storylines.
I am also biased in saying this because I have read other novels within the fantasy genre, but I found Flame in the Mist to be lacking in the action scenes. The author introduces a few “battle/fight” situations in the story and they either feel incomplete or lack substance. I understand the realm in which Young Adult fiction falls can be vastly different from that of Adult Fantasy, but in comparison to the rest of the story these scenes left much to desire. Renee Ahdieh writes beautifully in regards to world building and character development, so in comparison to those sections of the story the action felt underwhelming, almost as if they were written by someone else entirely.
Ultimately I gave Flame in the Mist a 3.5/5 on Goodreads and would recommend it to readers looking for something unique and enthralling in the Young Adult Fantasy genre, especially as a diverse read. I can’t wait to see what Ahdieh has in store for Mariko and how this character will be further developed in the following books.