“Without risk, life is far too predictable” – Renee Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist, p.137.
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 where Mulan meets Throne of Glass. Released on May 16, 2017 in Canada, Flame in the Mist promised to be one of the best Young Adult Fantasy releases on the season – and Ahdieh certainly didn’t disappoint!
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace. Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track 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 had been excitedly awaiting Flame in the Mist for months when it finally arrived on my porch in my May FairyLoot box (along with plenty of themed goodies – yay!). And what could go wrong, what with Japanese mythology, samurai, cross-dressing female warriors, secrets, lies and just the right amount of romance mixed in, right? Ahdieh’s newest book promised to be another action-packed, romance-filled and politically charged YA Fantasy novel, and as always, Ahdieh delivered on all counts. The plot, the prose and the characters were spot on, and I found that I was barely able to put the book down once I started reading!
Let’s start with the plot – the entire story was exceptionally well-paced, which was highly satisfying. Ahdieh ensured that any “dull” or less-action-packed sequences were balanced by action and intrigue, ensuring that the story did not feel like an info-dump, nor did it feel like a poorly explained whirlwind of action. The action, romance and intrigue were well-paced, such that occurrences relating to any of them felt well-placed and thought out. And that final plot twist? I didn’t even see it coming. I probably should have, in retrospect, but I was just so engrossed by the story and the characters that I was totally blinded by the reveal at the end of the book – and completely satisfied by it as well, as it added a whole new dimension to the plot, and the the story going forward.
“Ideas are the seeds of possibility. Without words, ideas are nothing but voiceless thoughts. Without ideas, words would never come into being” – Renee Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist, p.129
Furthermore, the prose is, true to Ahdieh’s style, simply stunning. Descriptions of food, clothing, people and even the scenery are rich and full of detail, adding a layer of intricacy and detail to the story that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. Ahdieh’s beautiful and flowing writing style will make you fall in love with all that Flame in the Mist’s Japan has to offer, make you wish you were right in the heart of it all. And more than that – it is evident that the research that went into this book was intense, making the descriptions all the more valid and heartfelt, especially for those readers who find themselves enamored with Japan and its culture.
And then there’s the characters – not only did I absolutely adore Mariko, but Kenshin, Okami, Yumi, Ranmaru and much of the Black Clan were well-developed into lovable, strong and interesting characters. Even secondary characters, like Yumi, Ren and Yoshi, added something important to the story – they were actual characters, not simply names, and were all the more engaging for it. But the best part? Nearly every character was a morally grey character. I simply loved how there was no really clearly defined “bad guy” or “good guy” among the main cast of characters. All the characters had understandable, human motivations behind their actions, making it harder to hate them for doing something despicable – because sometimes, there simply are no good choices, and you just have to choose between bad ones and hope for the best. For example – Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin. While the reader, and the Black Clan, view his actions while hunting Mariko as pretty despicable (fighting with Okami and Ranmaru, killing innocents while searching for Mariko, leading a party to attack the Black Clan, etc.), the reader can also sympathize with his plight – he is trying to maintain his own personal and family honor, desperately seeking out the missing sister he loves, and searching for vengeance for the (assumed) death of the girl he loved – a death for which the Black Clan was indirectly responsible. And so, Kenshin can’t really be seen as a completely black-hearted, cruel villain – simply a casualty of circumstance and political maneuvering in a much larger game than he ever knew, or expected. Furthermore, I really enjoyed Mariko’s character development. Mariko undergoes some truly impressive character development and growth over the course of the story. While struggling to understand the powers at work around her, she decides she won’t be a useless prize to be sold, and begins to fight for the new home she’s found – for the new friends she’s made. She decides that she will no longer be meek and afraid, but instead that she will be something stronger. I absolutely loved how stubborn, fierce, and honorable she was, and how much more those traits grew to be as she developed. Mariko never swayed from her morals, and she remained wholly her own, regardless of those who would have willed otherwise.
“My heart knows your heart. A heart doesn’t care about good or bad, right or wrong. A heart is always true.” – Renee Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist, p.362.
And the romance. While Flame in the Mist had significantly less romance than Ahdieh’s other books, Mariko and Okami’s hate-to-love relationship left nothing to be hated about their relationship by the end. They’re an equal match – not half of another, but wholly their own, and truly in love. By the time Mariko and Okami finally got around to doing something about their feelings, I was practically steaming with frustration.
Overall, this book was everything it promised to be – a very loose retelling of Mulan, smashed together with Japanese mythology, samurai, 47 Ronin and feudal Japan – which meant lots of action, intrigue and yes, romance. I loved every word of this book – from the well-paced plot, to the intriguing, morally grey characters, right down to the stunning prose that defines Ahdieh’s style. So, if you’re a lover of fantasy, retellings and/or Mulan, you’re not going to want to miss out on this one (4.5/5)!