Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn, comes a sweeping, action-packed YA adventure set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan.
Mariko has always known that being a woman means she’s not in control of her own fate. But Mariko is the daughter of a prominent samurai and a cunning alchemist in her own right, and she refuses to be ignored. When she is ambushed by a group of bandits known as the Black Clan enroute to a political marriage to Minamoto Raiden – the emperor’s son – Mariko realises she has two choices: she can wait to be rescued… or she can take matters into her own hands, hunt down the clan and find the person who wants her dead.
Disguising herself as a peasant boy, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan’s hideout and befriends their leader, the rebel ronin Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, Okami. Ranmaru and Okami warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. But as Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets that will force her to question everything she’s ever known.
Source: ARC from Hodder and Stoughton via Amazon Vine
As a teen I probably would have loved this. A young woman disguising herself as a man in order to track down the people who tried to kill her, not just to get out of the marriage she has no interest in, but also to defend her honour. Set in feudal Japan. With magic. Honestly, I probably would have lapped it up.
Then again, perhaps not, because while I found it enjoyable, I also found it frustrating. There are some beautiful lyrical passages, but on the whole it didn’t transport me as much as I’d hoped, mostly because the most beautiful passages had little or nothing to do with what was actually going on. I didn’t really get a feel for the forest – beyond some scary trees – and I really, really wanted more of the magic. Those spirits could have been everything, but instead they’re fleeting glimpses of unexplained intrigue.
Speaking of intrigue, there’s quite a bit of politics sprinkled here and there, which normally I can’t get enough of. This time around I was left uninterested because that side of the story involved Mariko’s twin, Kenshin, who had so little personality that I really wasn’t sure why I should have cared what went on with him.
Mariko definitely had a personality. She’s opinionated and curious, has a quick mind and some great ideas, but is also stubborn and prone to foolish moments. I’m still not entirely sold on her whole “I shall run into the woods after a band of murderers completely on my own, destroy them all and return home bathed in glory and victory!” idea, because it sounds like the biggest load of nonsense. But it does fit with her character, so okay. Her character development does stall a few times in the book, and everything with the raid just made me question her intelligence. Overall, she comes across as way too much of a special snowflake and the latitude she’s granted over her mistakes irritated me. I need consequences!
There is also a romance, which was okay, if a little predictable. My enjoyment of it was mostly because it gave us more Okami, who is a fascinating character, all broody and secretive, yet quietly amused by Mariko, and also perfectly capable of killing her. Which at times I wish he had, because she can be incredibly annoying. I would have liked more about his confusion over his feelings, and just more about him and Ranmaru and the Black Clan in general. And so much more about what’s going on inside him. I could have done without certain aspects of the end, though, because that felt incredibly unnecessary.
I can’t say much about the setting, because my knowledge of Japan isn’t great, but as an outsider looking in I don’t feel like I learnt anything about this place, time or culture. Lots of window dressing and cultural props without any real substance. A bit like the plot. The Black Clan lacked detail and direction, Mariko and Kenshin are terrible at investigating, the Imperial Palace is a cliché of intrigue and backstabbing, and the magic comes and goes as is convenient without any explanation whatsoever.
So overall this was okay. It’s readable and enjoyable up to a point, with characters prone to drama, a romance that goes exactly where you think it will, and a plot that is just about starting by the end of the book. Fun to while away some reading hours with, but not something that’ll stick with me for long.
Flame in the Mist is Out Now.
Visit Renée Ahdieh for more details.