Flame in the Mist, by Renée Ahdieh, is a wonderful and fresh rendition of a beloved classic, made more remarkable by the author’s stunning prose and imaginative story telling.
“Mariko was the daughter of
a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai. But more than that, she still held power over her decisions. For at least this one last day. She would face her enemy. And die with honor.”
Flame begins with Mariko, a girl in feudal Japan, on a journey to meet her betrothed, the emperor’s bastard son. Her father arranged her marriage to gain some political power, and maddeningly, Mariko can do nothing but go along with this play. On the way, her norimono is attacked (by bandits, magical monsters, who knows?) and everyone dies except her. Mariko suspects the Black Clan, and sets out on a dangerous journey to find the truth. Also, this is Mariko’s opportunity to do something on her own, and escape from the oppressive and inflexible life she’s made to lead simply because she’s a girl.
“Family can entitle you to many things. It can also feel entitled to much from you in return.”
If you’re a girl-power enthusiast, and if you like being fully entrenched in a world of the past, then Flame in the Mist is definitely for you. Renée Ahdieh’s skill at world-building is uniquely beautiful, and even more enchanting since she brings to life worlds and cultures that don’t get showcased enough in this genre. With The Wrath and the Dawn, readers fall in love with the rich, vibrant and romantic Persian and Middle Eastern culture. And, with Flame in the Mist, Ahdieh elicits all the senses with her writing, and creates an enchanting world filled with intrigue, danger, romance, and magic.
“Control is an illusion.”
As mentioned, and as should be known if you’ve read this author before, the prose is superb. The plot is engaging, though it might take some a while to become entrenched. Ahdieh doesn’t skimp when representing this culture (mostly through Mariko’s eyes), and she richly incorporates language, food, dress, and technology to build her world of characters.
It took me about 20% to settle into this novel. I had to get used to the rhythm and language before I could feel like I was a part of Mariko’s world–a feeling that was shaky and unsure at first, and sometimes uncomfortable because of what I didn’t understand. Once I was settled, I was engaged and curious.
“Without risk, life is far too predictable.”
Flame in the Mist is told from multiple perspectives. Mariko gets the bulk of the narrative, and the intrigue is built around her, her twin brother, Kenshin, plus a few more (brief) points of view, which I won’t expand on since that’ll ruin the fun. Each perspective is compelling and elevates this novel from a simple Mulan fanfic featuring a girl in a man’s world training to be a warrior (though those scenes in the Black Clan’s lair are fun) to one featuring political intrigue, murder, betrayal, class struggles, and other thought-provoking themes.
“Strike when they least expect it.”
This novel impressed me, especially considering I was hesitant to pick it up since The Rose and the Dagger disappointed me. I might even like this one more than The Wrath and the Dawn. Because, while Wrath is a love story of the epic kind; Flame is more. It’s layered, it’s relevant, it’s intense. I love the mood, it’s sinister thread and the dark turn it takes at the end. I can’t wait for the next book!
“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.”
Of course, my favorite aspect of Flame is the love story that unfolds, because I will always be here for the romance, but it’s not a large portion of the story, since Mariko holds her secret for the majority of the book. This might disappoint readers who fell for the sweeping romance of Wrath, but I don’t mind it, and I’m embracing all the secondary characters and the mysteries they hold.
I dreamed about this book, and if I dream about a book, then it’s left its mark. There’s something about Mariko that draws me, and definitely something about Black Clan leaders Ōkami and Ranmaru. Their secrets, in particular, are fascinating and I am dying to know more about them and their pasts.
“To me, you are magic.”
I think this series is billed as a duet, and that makes me nervous, especially after my reaction to The Rose and the Dagger. I need all the characters to get their dues, their stories to develop as they deserve, and I’m not sure that can happen in one book, unless it’s much longer than this one. Regardless, I’m going to judge Flame on its own merits and appreciate it for the gem it is, but keep my fingers crossed that this tale will keep getting better.
This book is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.
P.S. I alternated between reading and listening since I needed to keep the story going during those times I couldn’t sit and read. The audio production does the book justice.Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Buy on Amazon, Buy on B&N, Buy on iBooks
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.