Book: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
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 17 years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed 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.
Flame in the Mist was on my Goodreads TBR list for quite a while, and what a worthwhile wait it was.
While I expected the usual YA trope of Girl Saves Herself – what I got was a thoughtful delve into ancient Japanese culture, with plenty of Japanese mysticism thrown into the mix.
The book’s main protagonist, Mariko, is suffocated by a world dominated by men. She yearns to escape her fate as a marital pawn, yet knows she holds no power. On route to meet her betrothed, her convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan – which she infiltrates disguised as a boy in order to uncover the reason why they wanted her dead, and more importantly, who ordered the kill.
Mariko’s quick-thinking lands her in front of the leader of the Black Clan, who soon invites her to join their ranks. And thus we find ourselves meeting the Black Clan and its best fighter – Okami – and Mariko’s eventual love interest.
Mariko is a perceptive character, yet refreshingly devoid of the usual “built-in” fighting skills many expect a warrior-like lead to already have. In reality, her privileged upbringing places her at a disadvantage within the Black Clan – as someone who has never had to fend for herself on any terms. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Okami.
The relationship between Okami and Mariko was interesting to see unfold. While Mariko had her identity to protect, Okami was suspicious of Mariko’s male alter ego, yet equally confused by his response to ‘him’. This dynamic made for hilarious moments between the two, while Ranmaru, the Black Clan’s leader and Okami’s best friend, watched amused from the sidelines.
Yet, while Mariko is devoid of any physical strength, she is by no means vulnerable. Her skills as an alchemist and strategic thinker make her a formidable lead as she starts to questions whether the Black Clan were, in fact, behind her attempted murder. And if not, than who was?
Many drew comparisons between Mariko’s tale and Mulan. In hindsight, while it does echo certain plot points from the Disney Classic, the similarities between the two stories are subtle enough to make Mariko’s story her own.
One of my favourite things about the book is the world-building. Ahdieh has managed to paint a rich and vivid world that wasn’t the least bit indulgent. In this case, I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of a history lesson, which most historical books tend to feel like.
The arc of mistaken identity is consistent throughout the book, and leads to a satisfactory cliffhanger at the end – enough so that I’m keen to see how Mariko’s story unfolds further. And how the underlining story of who was responsible for her kidnapping is explored.
Fast paced and filled with intriguing characters, the Flame in the Mist was a generous read. Like myself, if you prefer a battle of wits more than actual battles, and enjoyed the likes of A Winner’s Curse, than this one is a must-read.
About the Reviewer:
A copywriter by day, an avid reader (and serial series watcher – jeez, try saying that 5 times) – by night, my library is filled with books of the YA kind, plenty of which fall under contemporary, fantasy, a few historical operas and the like. The occasional New Adult, perhaps. Not a fan of picking favourites – if I’m hooked by the synopsis, then I’m willing to read pretty much anything. That’s all, folks.