Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Source: From the publisher
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.
I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for The Wrath and the Dawn and it’s sequel, but Flame in the Mist is the first Renée Ahdieh book I’d ever picked up, so I had pretty much no idea what to expect. Feudal Japan, Mulan-inspired, Fantasy… It sounded pretty epic, and so I had high hopes. Plus, although the cover isn’t necessarily an indication of a great book, this gorgeous cover certainly stands out and kept me coming back to it often, wondering if I should finally give it a chance. On the other hand, Flame in the Mist has seen massive positive hype, and that always makes me a little cautious which is why I didn’t pick this up until it was chosen as the TBR list winner for May.
Flame in the Mist started really slowly in my opinion – it took me 5 days to read the first third, and I felt like very little happened in that third. I found myself starting other books, or just choosing to do things other than read, a lot of the time during those first five days, because I just wasn’t gripped at all. The second half was addictive and took me only a day to get through, but ultimately Flame in the Mist was a bit of a disappointment for me.
I liked most of the characters, or at the very least I was curious about them even if I didn’t necessarily like them – Ranmaru, Yoshi, Okami and Yumi are all interesting, and I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Ranmaru and Okami. I didn’t have particularly strong feelings for Mariko either way – her logic sometimes baffled me, but I didn’t dislike her, and I liked the fact she had opinions of her own about being married off etc. I didn’t like the romance particularly though, and I just didn’t believe the sexual chemistry between them at all. It felt like it was trying to be a sort of enemies to lovers ship – one of my favourite types of ship! – but I felt like the attraction between the two came out of nowhere.
There were times when Ahdieh’s descriptions were lovely and evocative, and there are some clever quotes you can’t help but admire, but there were also times when the writing style infuriated me and distracted me from the story. There were a lot of times when the description descends into tiny short sentences which didn’t work for me at all. I’ve lent my copy to a friend so I can’t skim it for more examples, but consider this one, a featured quote on Goodreads. Some of this sort of works for me in a taking-control-of-her-destiny-way, but is a prime example of the tiny little sentences I mean:
“But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward. 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.”
These short sentences, inevitably all jammed together in rapid succession jarred me out of the story, and I found myself wondering why they were there. In the example above, I can see that it helps dial up the intensity, but they were dotted throughout the whole book, even in completely non-dramatic moments. I just began to wonder what was wrong with a descriptive sentence of more than one clause – particularly as there are times in the book when they’re used brilliantly!
The fantasy elements are few and far between, with very little explanation. If you’re expecting to be able to understand the rules of magic in the same way you might in something like a Maria V. Snyder novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and ultimately this feels more like a historical romance than a fantasy. While I understand not wanting to give away all the answers at once, particularly as this is going to be at least a two book series, Flame in the Mist went too far the other way for me, and I was left not understanding the magic at all. I almost started to feel like the magic was a later addition to the original story – on the rare occasions something magical felt plot-relevant, I was left not quite sure what happened or how or why.
The setting is great, and probably my favourite part of the book. If you ignore the magic, the world-building is great and it’s certainly the only reason I kept reading during that slow first third of the book. Ultimately though, as great as the setting was, the slightly strange writing style and the pretty-much-incomprehensible magic system meant I didn’t love this half as much as I wanted to. The addictiveness of the second half and the great setting (combined with an unsatisfied curiosity about the magic) mean I’ll be picking the second book up, but I won’t be rushing to pre-order it. I loved the idea, but the execution left me disappointed.