Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Page Count: 416
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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.
“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.”
Wow. Plot twists don’t always surprise me or catch me off guard, but Flame in the Mist has taken me for a magic-filled journey that I wasn’t expecting. Renée creates a culturally rich story I don’t want to leave. And I’m not sure how to express my love I have for this book.
After surviving a botched attack, Mariko, daughter of a samuri who seeks a higher station in life, infiltrates the Black Clan, a ruthless gang hired to kill her on her way to meet her betrothed. A hidden alchemist and inventor dressing as a peasant boy, she is determined to discover why she was almost murdered and who paid the Black Clan to go forth with her death. But when her plan goes awry, the clan takes her prisoner. There she meets the leader of the clan, Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, Okami, and realizes that secrets and lies enshroud these two and the life she has always known isn’t what she thought it was.
“Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving. Remain motionless—remain unyielding—and you are as good as dead. Death follows indecision, like a twisted shadow. Fall forward. Keep moving. Even if you must pick yourself up first.”
Renée throws in touches of Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes and a dash of Robinhood. I’m not convinced of the Mulan connection though. But I easily fell in to her book and couldn’t get out. The only things keeping me from it were sleep and, well, life. I’m not always a fan of fast-paced fantasy novels. Sometimes some scenes are lacking what I crave. But she paces this book beautifully. She captures the setting in such a way that I could immediately imagine what I was reading and adds just enough magic to spark my interest. I love her writing. It isn’t grandiose. It is straightforward, but it also takes you a magical adventure. Hidden agendas, political deception, secrets, lies, plot twists, and slow burning romance will captivate readers who look for a story that stands out from the rest.
Do you know what I look for in the literary world? More women empowerment. But more importantly, I look for male characters who aren’t afraid of women who fight back and are willing to support them. In some stories, you get women tearing down others. Why? Tell me how women shaming helps us. It doesn’t. Now that we have that issue behind us, Flame in the Mist exudes women empowerment. Renée’s book had me dancing in my chair and quietly yelling, “Yes!” Bless Renée for incorporating it into her book.
No, I cannot say I am an expert on Japanese mythology, culture, or traditions. I feel that Renée has honoured them though, and she certainly brings them to the forefront of her writing. You see the attention to detail she weaves in, and I enjoy how this culture stands on its own. She also puts in Japan-inspired creatures that kept my fangirl screaming. The jubokko, a vampire tree, may just be my favourite. A VAMPIRE TREE, people. Have some respect for an author who writes that in.
But what shines above all else are her characters. I rarely say that I enjoy all characters. I usually find a flaw I can’t stand or a character development that doesn’t make sense, but I love hers. No characters were needlessly added for a filler. Each one adds to the story. Mariko’s quiet demeanour and resolve allow her talents to be through life. But don’t let them fool you. Behind them, Mariko‘s a force no one should go up against. Her family members underestimate this alchemist, and in doing so, they set her on a track to prove her worth. I adore her. The odd calls to odd, I say. She refuses to let the world bend her and to change her to what she family wants her to be.
Okami, the Wolf of the Black Clan, creeps up on you. Authors will always grab my attention when they write a tortured, silent, yet argumentative man who likes nothing more than to test the main character. Lord help me if I find this kind of man. I’ll be done for. He moves the story along and adds intrigue to it as well. You get glimpses of Takeda Ranmaru. But what you see interests me. Both men—hell, all these men live by a code—are connected by their father’s past. They have untold stories, and I hope Renée explores them further in the sequel.
Flame in the Mist may be my first story I’ve read from Renée’s repertoire, but I hope to read her previous work and truly hope to read more from her. She has developed a beautiful craft that will take her far. I cannot wait to see what she will do for the sequel!