Hello everyone! Before I start this review let me tell you that I was more than excited to finally read this book because – “Mulan meets Feudal Japan” – how cool is that?! I had never read anything by Renée Ahdieh before + it does help me add something to YARC (#YARC 2019 🏮🐯🥢 | Joining a Reading Challenge! + Updates). So, after months of it waiting on my digital want-to-read list I finally decided to pick it up. And, I’ll be honest with you guys: You have probably already heard me raving about Shadow of the Fox
(awesome book, check it out!! yes you!). This book may have contributed a little something to me wanting to read books with similar settings as itself. But Flame in the Mist turned out to be quite different from what I expected…
book 1 of the Flame in the Mist Series
published May 16th 2017
genre: ya, fantasy, retellings, romance
flame in the mist on goodreads ( •⌄• ू )✧
my rating: ⭐⭐⭐
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.
“Beautiful words were beautiful words, even to the most practical of minds.”
This book was a real disappointment for me and believe me when I say that I was patient and open for it. I had never read anything by Renée Ahdieh before but I have always been wanting to read her 1001 Nights retelling The Wrath and the Dawn. I have heard a lot of people rave about this duology but before even starting with Flame in the Mist reviews with readers having “mixed feelings” about this one made their ways to my Goodreads feed. I usually do not pay a lot of attention to reviews
especially the critical ones before starting to read a book because I don’t want to get into it having specific things in mind or knowing too much beforehand. But with Flame in the Mist it was IMPOSSIBLE to not stumble upon some kind of review complaining about how this is NOT the Mulan retelling they wanted to read about.
❀ Is Flame in the Mist a Mulan retelling or did someone pull my leg?
I want to confirm this at the very beginning of the review: Flame in the Mist is only loosely based on Mulan! While there are some similarities between Flame in the Mist and Mulan (e.g. the main character being disguised as a boy, cutting off hair,…), this book’s setting differs a bit from the Disney movie you might have in mind right now. Renée Ahdieh’s version is set in Feudal Japan. Yup, just as Shadow of the Fox – another ya-fantasy I recently read. Feudal Japan has become one of my favourite settings to read about in books and I think it is at least partly because of SotF (。.:☆*:･'(*⌒―⌒*))). Now, reading 2 books with the same setting in a short timespan CAN lead to a lot of comparing. And, that’s basically what I did 51% of the time I was reading Flame in the Mist, unintentionally of course. The result? I enjoyed Shadow of the Fox a lot better and I found out the issues I had with this one.
In order to explain this, let’s start with the main character:
“I’ve been blind so much. I’ve thought I possessed the truth so often. When in truth I’ve possessed nothing.”
Hattori Mariko ❀━ Mariko is smart, brave, curious and extremely stubborn. She likes to invent things and I really liked the character development she goes through and not only how her personality changes a bit but also how her view on certain topics change. Mariko learns more and more about the world she lives in and is really open to that. Overall, I liked her as a character but, as I mentioned in some of my Goodreads updates, she also seems angry for a long time and moody which is fine but got on my nerves at some point. She has a goal she wants to achieve, a question she wants to be answered but she loses her focus so many times in this book that it was really frustrating to read. And, while Mariko is very well aware of her weaknesses and is self-critical she doesn’t really do anything to change and improve. I feel like this is a really important element to her character she should have had.
To be honest, I didn’t feel attached to ANY of the characters in the book. There was no one I cheered on, no one I fangirled about it, no one I was desperate to read more about. But there was one character I thought could have been an even more interesting character than Mariko ever was; KENSHIN. He’s Mariko twin brother, a samurai and I thought that his story line was really enjoyable to read about especially when it comes to his inner conflicts (let’s all meet in the spoiler section to talk more about Kenshin).
“Love is-” […] “It isn’t something that can be understood or explained. It’s intagible. Like magic. Those who do not possess its power can never fully grasp it.”
Furthermore, I was not a big fan of the romance neither. I struggled with it from the beginning when I was trying to figure out who Mariko’s love interest was. Her actual betrothed? Okami? Or the Black Clan leader? I was confused about it for a long time until I finally found out in the middle of the book. And, this is not even a spoiler or a secret!! Maybe that was due to me not liking Okami from the very beginning…
But let’s leave all that romance drama aside and talk about the actual fantasy aspect of this book. These elements came and went pretty randomly and in my opinion didn’t go well with the plot because it felt like as if the author tried really hard to include some kind of supernatural element to the story which was most of the times not necessary and lead to confusion.
Now, after talking a lot about the issues I had with Flame in the Mist. Here are some major aspects I did like about the book;
- the setting
ofc// I already said that in my review of Shadow of the Fox but I really, really love Feudal Japan as a setting with all of its aspects. “The Way of the Warrior”, the different places the characters travel to, the language – I really want to read all the good ya-fantasy novels wth Feudal Japan as a setting and I am really happy to see more and more books with this setting.
- and I kinda liked this quote:
“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. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
- (some parts of )the world building // This includes Jukai forest, the Imperial City, the tea house, and how we are introduced to the world in general.
All in all, I think that Flame in the Mist was enjoyable and fast-paced although I had a couple of issues with it so I am giving it an “okay” 3-star rating. I don’t know if I will continue with this series and read the sequel but I definitely want to try out Renée Ahdiehs other books especially The Wrath and the Dawn duology. I have really high hopes (i.e. 5- star rating) for it and I won’t change that because of this read.
So, I said that we will talk about Kenshin a bit more in the spoiler section;
I think that Kenshin is the most complex character in the whole book making him more interesting to me than Mariko, our protagonist, was. You could really see how much he struggled although being a honourable samurai. He didn’t know if he should do what his heart tells him to do (sounds a bit cheesy, I know) or what is “right” for his family and especially what his father tells him to do. I always looked forward to the snippets we got about Kenshin in this book. And, if you were disappointed by the romance form the main ship then you might like the side ship including Kenshin and Amaya, the daughter of a blacksmith who works at the court of Mariko and Kenshin’s father, with the forbidden love trope I really liked in this one (though being a bit cliché).
May I present my favourite scene of the whole book:
“Your shoulder is uncomfortable.” […] Before he could move away, Amaya caught him by the chin. “What is it?” she repeated. “Your shoulder is too bony. You shoul eat more.” She smiled. “As should you.” He pressed his head to her shoulder again. “I thought you said it was uncomfortable,” Amaya teased. She reached for his hand, lacing her fingers through his. “It’s uncomfortable because you’re resting your head. Rest your heart, instead.”
But, you know, of course there had to be some problem with this adorable couple. Thank you Renée Ahdieh for letting Amaya die(?). I tend to question the death of favourite characters and hope that they somehow revive although that is very unlikely and also I don’t think Amaya could survive THAT fire.
Well, Renée Ahdieh does definitely know what to come up with when writing a cliffhanger. Woah. The empress poisoning the emperor?! Jealousy?! Someone watching all of this happening…
My prediction for Book 2: a lot of royal court drama, revenge, love rivals.
Have you read any books with Feudal Japan as a setting and can you recommend them? I’d love to know!