Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Date Read: 06/08/2017 – 15/08/2017
I don’t really know why this book didn’t impress me more. It ticked all my boxes for what makes a great YA fantasy. It was one of my most highly-anticipated releases this year, so there is a chance I just hyped it up too much in my head, or maybe I am actually still in my reading slump a bit. Either way, while this was enjoyable, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Mariko is on her way to be united with her betrothed, the son of the Emperor of Wa, when her convoy is attacked and everyone around her murdered. Certain that this is the work of the Black Clan, she infiltrates their ranks disguised as a boy, intent on finding out who sent them to kill her and why. But the more time she spends with them, the more she realises that there is more the Black Clan than their reputation would suggest, and there is also a lot that her sheltered upbringing has kept her blind to…
I did really love the Japanese-inspired world-building, even if I did have to flick to the back to find out what the Japanese words meant. I felt this was the strongest aspect of the novel. I do believe this shouldn’t have been sold as a Mulan-retelling or even as Mulan-inspired. There are plenty of stories about girls dressing up as boys. The resemblances of Flame in the Mist to Mulan were superficial at best. Why not let a story sell on its own merits rather than comparing it.
The characters were where I got stuck. For a start, I didn’t feel like there was a huge difference between Ranmaru and Okami, and even with the helpful prologue to establish a few things, I got lost trying to remember who/whose father betrayed whom.
Mariko was an interesting character in that she is far from the usual kick-ass babe who usually dominates the “strong female character” role. While I appreciated that, her coolness and rational nature actually made it a bit harder to connect to her. Yes, I realise I’m giving Renee Ahdieh a bit of a damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn’t situation here, but hey, I’m just describing the reading experience for me. I also found her repeated mantras about not being weak and striking when they least expect it quite repetitive and annoying, and I also didn’t buy a lot of the decisions she made. Maybe that’s why I didn’t connect with her.
That being said, I did really like some of her character development. Particularly towards the end, Mariko realises how sheltered she has been and that her family is not as good and honourable as she had always thought. She also realises that they Black Clan is not as evil as it has been depicted. I do like it when a character can come to those realisations.
I felt the romance was full of tell and little show. I’m actually not a fan of romances where one character falls for the other in spite of everything. As far as Mariko knew, Okami had wanted to kill her. Still wants to. She keeps telling herself that he’s her enemy, but hey, he’s sexy, and that can’t be helped or overlooked? I didn’t think there was any chemistry between them, so all their private thoughts about each other didn’t really do much for me.
I did enjoy the explorations of what it means to be a girl/woman, particularly in societies such as this one. Mariko’s experience is contrasted with that of Yumi, a young maiko (geisha), and Mariko realises that just because she aims for something more, does not mean that every woman will, but that it’s the opportunity that’s important.
This was my first experience of Renee Ahdieh’s writing; I’m yet undecided on whether to read The Wrath and the Dawn. While the writing was good, I don’t feel especially compelled to pick up the sequel when it comes out.
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