Flame in the Mist, by Renée Ahdieh was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017.
Featuring a spunky heroine and a lush Japanese background, Ahdieh proves herself a masterful storyteller, and you’re in for a real treat!
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.
Don’t go into it thinking of the book as a “Mulan retelling”, because it is not.
First of all, I want to clear the air about something. I keep seeing this book described as a “Mulan retelling.” To be clear, I think this is a gross misrepresentation of what Ahdieh has actually done with this story. The only reason why critics are calling Flame in the Mist a “Mulan retelling” is because 1) It’s set against an Asian background 2) Mariko disguises herself as a boy and becomes a warrior in the process. Personally, I found Flame in the Mist reminiscent of otome visual novels that I used to play, or anime that I used to watch like Hakuoki. They would feature one main spunky heroine surrounded by attractive men of varying motivations and skills set against feudal Japan.
Anyway, my point is that if and when you do decide to read Flame in the Mist, don’t go into it thinking of the book as a “Mulan retelling.” That does a great disservice to the authentically Japanese environment that Ahdieh creates.
Ok, whew. It honestly feels great to get that off my chest. Moving on to the meat of the story! My favorite thing about Flame in the Mist was how Ahdieh treated the Japanese cultural elements. There are specific terms that do not have exact English translations, like honorifics added to names (-chan, -sama, etc) that she inserts without confusion. She sprinkles in terms like “daimyo,” “geiko,” etc. very appropriately and without excess. Whenever she would use a Japanese term, she took care to explain it without context, rather than just state the definition of it. I so loved that! As someone who is inspired by Asian mythology and culture in her writing, translating these cultural and linguistic differences is something I struggle with, so I learned a lot from how Ahdieh crafted her words.
Mariko was a lovely protagonist, in my opinion. She was relatable, yet fearless. But I have to admit, the most intriguing character to me was her brother, the Dragon of Kai. We don’t get much from his perspective, but what parts we do get are mysterious and hint at the conflicts that he wars with internally. No spoilers here, but it was really interesting to see him portrayed as the archetype of a samurai that follows the tenets of bushido, against Mariko’s experience within the Black Clan.
The plot was also very fun! This book was a quick read for me, about 400 pages and filled with fast-paced dialogue and action. But looks can be deceiving, because there were amazing plot twists when I least expected them. Flame in the Mist sets itself up very well for a sequel and I’m really looking forward to when that’s announced!
GUEST BOOK REVIEWER
Bette Ha is our guest reviewer. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she admits to having a sweet tooth and penchant for hugging dogs of all sizes. Bette also enjoys singing Hamilton musical songs in the shower and reading Young Adult fiction of the fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction variety. For the look of her photo, you might as well have guessed that she is a Harry Potter fan. She is currently reading The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon and The Falconer by Elizabeth May. You can read more of her reviews at Bette's Pages.
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