Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Genre: Retellings, YA
Published: May 16th, 2017 (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
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.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I enjoyed The Wrath and the Dawn so much, the cover of Flame and the Mist alone would have prompted me to pick up this book. I’ve seen many early reviews that described this as a Mulan retelling but personally I found only the vaguest of similarities. Mariko is definitely no Disney princess.
Mariko is the sole survivor of an attack on her convoy taking her to the Imperial City to be married to the second son of the Emperor. Believing that her attackers are the Black Clan, she decides to find out why they attacked her and who paid them to do so by infiltrating the Black Clan disguised as a boy. Things don’t turn out exactly as she plans of course, and she finds herself a sort-of-prisoner turned unwilling ally in their encampment. On the other hand, her brother Kenshin, who is an expert tracker and a renowned samurai, realizes very quickly that Mariko is still alive and is out searching for her. But in the Imperial City, the Emperor and his family are playing their own games and everyone has something to hide. In her search for the truth, Mariko, who has thus far lived an extremely privileged and sheltered life, comes to see that the Black Clan and its leaders are very different from what they are made out to be and that things outside the walls of her home are not all she expected them to be.
As someone who doesn’t know much about Japanese culture or traditions, I enjoyed this book very much, getting to learn so many new and interesting facts about feudal Japan which is the setting for this story. Mariko is a likeable character even if she doesn’t make the most sensible choices at times. She is something of a budding inventor and alchemist as well which her family rather disapproves of, since she’s a girl. She has a rebellious streak of course, but her actions through the course of the story are all directed towards protecting the reputation of her family.
Okami is an interesting and rather complex character (though I must say, Khalid was better). No one is what they seem to be, and I get the feeling that there are definitely many secrets yet to be revealed – especially in Ranmaru’s case. I definitely did not see that twist at the end coming. It should be interesting to see how all this unravels, especially considering all the plotting that is going on at the castle. I found the whole magic aspect more than a little confusing but hopefully that will be better explained in the sequel. One thing I would have liked to see is more of Mariko’s background and early life which is only alluded to very briefly at some points in the story. A little more insight into Kenshin and Mariko’s sibling relationship would have been nice too.
A thoroughly engrossing read and an adventure from page one that makes you want to finish the entire book in one sitting!
Other reviews in this series: