Title / Flame in the Mist
Author / Renee Ahdieh
Publication Date / 2017
Overall Star Rating / ★★
Goodreads synopsis: 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.
When I heard this being pitched as a possible Mulan retelling I was immediately interested in it as Mulan has always been my favourite Disney film and the live action film (2009) is also really good. I really wanted to love this but unfortunately it didn’t work me. First off I wouldn’t call this a Mulan retelling – for one thing it’s set in Japan, not China and for another the only similarity is that the main character pretends to be a boy. I found the writing to be quite overly dramatic at times, as well as being a little to descriptive. Other than that, I had no issues with the writing. The world building, on the other hand, could have been better. One of the main things that drew me to this book was the world as it is set in Feudal Japan and I was a little disappointed by it. It wasn’t awful by any means but I wanted some much more depth from it. I mainly wanted more of the politics of the world so I could have a better understanding of how this world works and the hierarchies. Unfortunately I didn’t feel like I got that. Another aspect that I thought was lacking is the magic system. There is literally no real explanation as to what, how, why etc. I want a magic system that I can understand , at least a little of it and there is no information about it in this book – it’s just there and we’re supposed to accept it. Moving on to the plot. It’s super slow, kind of predictable and a bit boring at times. That may sound a little harsh but nothing about the plot had me hooked and it left me feeling wanting so much more. I think the plot idea had some potential but for me it just didn’t work. I think the pacing didn’t help it. Throughout this book the pacing is slow – it never really picks up. As I’ve said in previous reviews I don’t mind slower pacing as the world, plot or characters will pull you through those times, but in this book that wasn’t the case. Speaking of characters, I didn’t like any of them. I went into this expecting to love the main character, Mariko, but dear god is she frustrating and some of her decisions are absolutely ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at her a few times while reading it. I understand that she’s young and may make mistakes but Ahdieh continually tells us that Mariko is super smart and I just really didn’t see it. I felt in this case it was more telling than showing in terms of the writing. All of the characters were flat and so lacked development, especially Mariko. To be honest I didn’t really care about any of the characters. I guess I should also mention the romance… oh why did there have to be a romance? I don’t understand why it seems in every fantasy YA book there has to be a romance. This one was entirely predictable and comes out of nowhere, in the sense that it happens very quickly. They literally know each other for maybe a few days and they’ve fallen for each other – commence eye rolling. I wouldn’t have minded it so much had they actually spent time getting to know each other and it had developed slowly. At least there’s no love triangle in this book. The final thing I’m going to mention is what I see as a lack of research in some places. Now I am by no mean an expert in Japanese culture and history, in fact I know very little but I felt that there were possibly a few things missing (e.g. names, manners, hierarchy etc.) and perhaps that this wasn’t particularly well researched. I may be wrong on that though – I don’t know the research she did.
Overall this definitely had potential to be a good book, but for me it really didn’t work. Don’t let me dissuade you too much though as I’ve seen a lot of great reviews over on goodreads. Maybe YA just isn’t working for me at the moment as I haven’t had much luck with it recently. I think I’ll stick to my adult fantasy for a while. Anyway have you guys read this book? What do you think? I hope you are all having a wonderful day and I will see you next time.