I can’t even begin to explain how shocked I was when I was approved for an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, this is probably my biggest title to date, so that’s quite exciting for me and my little space of the internet. And I had every right to be so excited – this book was everything I expected it to be, and so much more!
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 ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.
This review is spoiler free!
The synopsis alone drew me into this epic fantasy re-telling; although the comparison between this and Mulan are a tad tenuous and definitely only in very succinct parts of the plot, however, this did not take away from my vast enjoyment of this novel. It’s compelling Japan setting, to its eclectic cast of characters, I enjoyed everything about this book.
Speaking of its eclectic cast of characters, let’s talk about our lead gal, Mariko.
Mariko is a woman of intellect, in a time when being so made others label you weird and you were shunned. I adored reading from Mariko’s point of view, she was both brave and terrified and proved that you can be both, and how you overcome it. She was completely honest about her terror which is encouraging, as you watched as she dealt with it, instead of it magically disappearing a few pages down the line.
One of my favourite parts is that Renée Ahdieh focused on the fact that Mariko’s strength lay in her mental rather than physical prowess. She knew that she would never be the strongest, or quickest, or most skilled with a blade. So, she honed her mind which was her greatest weapon – her intellect her greatest resource. It was so much more interesting to see this play out instead of the archetype of Mariko being a chosen one of sorts. Instead, we got a three-dimensional female character who I was so invested in.
All of the characters in the novel are, for the most part, well-fleshed out, with things clicked into place at just the right time. Some will always get over-looked, or under-explored, but in such a sprawling world, you know they are at least there for a reason and at some point, their narrative will be revealed.
We are introduced to so many important characters, and players in the plot I don’t want to delve into them too much through fear of spoiling the book.
The romance, which I won’t talk about too much as it’s a large plot point and I definitely want you to experience it as I did. What I can say is that it was exciting and intense and in my opinion, so well written and executed. It never takes away from the main story, nor the characters it involves. It’s understated and never over-exposed, fluidly written along with the plot. This is not a story of romance, it is a story that involves romance, without overpowering the main narrative.
One of my favourite aspects of the novel is the important theme of family; which is found throughout the book. You might even say it was the very core. Mariko and her brother, and how they may have bickered as siblings do, yet she knows he out there, looking for her, day and night, never believing her to be dead. It’s such a strong theme, that it is woven into the story of every character. Although many of them are not happy stories, it’s happy to see it represented this way, as families have a tendency to be overshadowed in a lot of YA, with parents being completely absent in some, playing very bit-parts.
How could I write a review of Flame in the Mist and not talk about the beautiful, epic world that was created for us? It was so glorious written, it was as though the author were painting the image straight into my mind. The descriptions flowed without being over the top, it was so so easy to picture the world, it all its glory. I got such a clear sense of each character in both the physical and the personable. I am genuinely so excited for the next instalment of this series and the book hasn’t even been technically published yet!
I truly loved this book, it was epic and adventurous and witty and intelligent. Next book, please!!