Title & Author: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Page count: 392
Originally published: 2017
Flame in the Mist is the first book in a new series and shares elements with Mulan. Mariko, a headstrong girl born in a world for boys, is the daughter of a samurai. She is arranged to marry a man she’s never met and who, frankly, she doesn’t even want. On her way to the Imperial City her convoy is attacked and her people killed. Mariko disguises herself as a boy so that she can use her cunning to find out who tried to kill her and why. What she doesn’t expect is that, as a boy, her ideas and opinions are respected, something she’s never known with her family. As a boy, Mariko is thrust into a new world that she’s never known, where she must question everything she thought she knew.
Character: Could have been better
Plot: Pretty good
Worldbuilding: Could have been better
Flow: Pretty good
Entertainment value: Pretty good [ ★★★ ]
Did I enjoy this book? Yes.
Do I think the read a waste of time? No.
Would I read it again? Maaaaybe.
Bonus: Will I read book two? Absolutely!
Rating: Pretty Good
If you’re looking for something a bit more in depth, a bit more personal, feel free to keep reading. If not, congratulations! That’s it! You’re done! Now, go read a book (or not)!
“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.”
Synopsis | Goodreads
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
Let me say this right away: THIS IS NOT A BAD BOOK. With that out of the way, several things bugged me, especially regarding character, in this book:
One| I wanted so much more from them. I found that the characters lacked any real depth. When things started to get exciting and lives were at stake I found that I just didn’t care about whether any of the characters got hurt or not.
Two| There’s a lot of time spent telling how smart and resourceful Mariko is and not a lot of time spent showing especially at the start—when you’re just getting to know her and it really matters! I know that this might have been a word-count issue or something that came out of the editing process, but I would have LOVED to see more of Mariko’s first few days as a boy.
Three| For much of the book, Mariko has three thoughts: some variation of “the Black Clan is evil”, “A warrior is never weak” and “Follow orders. Engender Trust. Strike when they least expect it”. This is a character that had so much potential to be bada**—there are so many promises of that. The problem is that a lot of the promises made in this book are for book two.
Four| A lot of Mariko’s brother’s actions made no sense to me. They just seemed so rash , short-sighted, and one-way thinking for a supposedly practiced samurai. I’m assuming, or rather hoping, that this is Dragon-of-Kai-magic-related stuff (see worldbuilding for more on the magic system) and hoping even more that it will be explained in book two.
So what did I like about character? Despite her frustrating nature at the beginning, Mariko does develop in her strength and hones her intelligence… it’s just more towards the end of the novel than I would have liked.
“There is such strength in being a woman. But it is a strength you must choose for yourself. No one can choose it for you. We can bend the wind to our ear if we would only try.”
The plot of this book is pretty good. In fact, it’s probably the strongest part of the book. The reason I gave plot ★★★ instead of ★★★★ is because I correctly guessed some things pretty early on thanks to those extra POV’s. Nonetheless, it was still an entertaining read, just a little bit frustrating because information that should have been saved for later was dished out pretty quickly thanks to those pesky POV chapters. I know a big thing that didn’t work for a lot of people are all of the beats that this story shares with Mulan. I was so excited for this book simply because it was advertised as a Mulan retelling, so I personally LOVED all of those Mulan moments.
“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…”
The worldbuilding was okay. I’ve read several reviews that praised the worldbuilding of this book, but for me there was too much lost potential. Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic worldbuilding points—the use of traditional terms and the glossary were two of my favorite things in the book. But other things fell short, for me. The political system is one of the main drivers of the underlying plot that will continue into book two, and it was barely explained. You get what you need to understand what is going on, but there’s no real depth. To my extreme disappointment, the magic system was not explained at all. Magic is just kind of there. And people can use it, or they’re gifted it? But there’s no explanation as to how or why. I’m really hoping that gets explored further in book two, otherwise there are also A LOT of empty promises in this book*.
*I’m sensing a theme, here.
This book was a bit hard to get through. I’m not going to lie. I was SO SUPER EXCITED for this book. I found that I flew through some chapters, but then I would get into a slump because the flow was broken so many times by unnecessary POV changes or just the redundant musings of Mariko. I feel like more often than not, if viewpoints are shared relatively proportionately throughout a book, the extra POV’s are unnecessary. It’s easy to fall into the convenience trap of switching POV to explain plot points, but I feel like it was unnecessary in this book. This book was all about Mariko’s journey to prove herself in her world, but most of the information that you’d think Markio would uncover is handed out to the reader long before she even comes close to discovering it. For me, this undermined the strength of her character and the tone of female empowerment a little bit. I really wish that things could have been moved around in a way that let Mariko uncover those secrets. The POV changes spoiled a lot of things that should have been surprises later on, at least for me.
“Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving.”
Overall I did enjoy this book. But I went into it expecting to LOVE it. My main issue was the multiple POV’s. I can deal with the lack of depth to character and world, but this part really irked me. If you do decide to read this book, expect to be a little miffed at the end, especially if you don’t intend to continue with the series. This book was kind of like Revenge of the Sith in that it didn’t really have an ending. It ends on a cliffhanger (not a Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead level cliffhanger, but a cliffhanger just the same) that will either hook you for book two or ruin the entire reading experience for you, so if you do read Flame in the Mist, read with that tidbit in mind. A LOT of promises are made in this book for future installments. What disappointed me is that book one didn’t deliver on them the way I expected it to. I fully intend to read the next book in this series, and I’m really hoping all the questions from book one get answered.