Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
“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.”
The hype surrounding Flame in the Mist mostly seemed to arise from the exciting idea that this book would be a retelling of one of the most beloved Disney films, Mulan. I, too, was really excited by that possibility and so I went in with some pretty high expectations. After reading, I have to say that while I really like this book, I can’t say that it’s perfect.
“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…”
Renée Ahdieh’s writing is just as descriptive and fluid as her prose in her The Wrath & the Dawn duology. She goes into great detail to bring her setting of feudal Japan to life, and it’s quite obvious that the author did a good bit of research to make her characters and the world they live in to be as authentic as possible. While some elements of the Mulan storyline are present (i.e. girl disguises herself as a boy), the story itself is fairly original and a story all its own.
The characters were all very interesting, especially Mariko, whom I found to be very clever, independent, strong-willed, and extremely capable of taking care of herself. And luckily, Mariko wasn’t the only strong female character. There were other women who excelled in their own strengths, such as the geishas, the emperor’s mistress, and even the empress, and so I really appreciated the feminist aspect of the book.
“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.”
I also found Mariko’s and Kenshin’s sibling relationship to be strong and genuine despite the distance between them. And even though we weren’t given that many chapters from Kenshin’s POV, I felt that we were given enough to get to really know and appreciate his character.
Okami had a mysteriousness about him I found appealing and I liked his standoffish yet playful nature. I enjoyed his odd friendship with Mariko while she was disguised as a boy, but I felt as if the romance between him and Mariko (once it she is revealed to be a girl) was a bit forced and not at all very well-developed. It kind of appeared for the sake of plot progression and it just didn’t feel natural enough.
“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.”
As for the plot itself, I felt the beginning was very engaging and started out with a bang, but the rest of the book sort of reaches a plateau in which nothing of great interest occurs. The action is severely reduced as the pacing slows down so that we’re better able to see Mariko engage with her environment. The ending, however, picks up the pace again, only to end far too quickly and somewhat abruptly.
The magic element was a welcome addition to the story but the description of the magical acts were kind of vague. I didn’t really understand the rules of magic use in this world and by the end, I was kind of wondering if it was really necessary even though I knew it was. Hopefully the next book clears some things up.
Mariko’s fierceness and determination are the best parts about the book and I love how detailed this world is. I would have liked to read more action scenes and I wish the romance and Mariko’s friendships among the Black Clan members were better established. Other than those few things, I thought this was a very enjoyable book.