My third #ARCAugust review falls to the wonderful Flame in the Mist. As I’ve discovered happens often, this is the first book in a series, which I didn’t know when I requested the book! While I don’t often read series books before the series is completed, I have no regrets about reading Flame in the Mist. After all, this turned out to be a mash-up of Mulan and 47 Ronin focused on the origins of ninja. What could there be not to like?
Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain. And you can do anything…
Ahdieh throws her readers directly into the action when Mariko’s tale begins. The entourage of samurai taking her to the Imperial city is nervous. Their job is to take her to her newly betrothed, the son of the Emperor and his Consort, where she will live out the rest of her days well cared for even if not married to the Emperor-To-Be. They suggest going around the forest, but Mariko laughs and tells them to cut through. Soon, her caravan is attacked by a gang of men and everyone left for dead. Mariko, somehow, escapes with her life. This must be the infamous Black Clan who resides in these woods, known for their thieving, mischief, and complete disregard for bushido. Determined to find out the truth about why they would kidnap her, Mariko stumbles into infiltrating the Black Clan disguised as a boy. Adventures ensue.
Okay, okay. That sounds really intense, and it was a really intense start to the book. But, honestly, the pacing didn’t work for me for the first quarter of the book. I was really intrigued, but something about this tale didn’t quite capture me for a while. But when it finally happened I was hooked. I didn’t want to sleep or go to work, I just wanted to read this story.
Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving. Remain motionless – remain unyielding – and you are as good as dead. Death follows indicision, like a twisted shadow. Fall forward. Keep moving. Even if you must pick yourself up first.
Most of my love for this tale is due to Mariko. She was raised in a sheltered, very privileged life. She is headstrong, intelligent, and has an analytical mind. While she understands to be a good daughter means to marry well and bring honor to her family, Mariko still rebels in her little ways; she’s a feminist before the word existed. As the story progresses, we get to see what an unreliable narrator she truly is. Mariko is confronted with a very different picture of the world during her time with the Black Clan. She doesn’t accept this openly. In fact, she assumes there is deceit around every corner. It’s obvious to the reader that Mariko is lying to herself; trying to protect her own mind from the truth right in front of her. Most of the book I wanted to shake her. She drove me crazy! But, watching Mariko transform over the course of the book from a sheltered, self-centered princess to a self-aware woman is engrossing. Her mental development tied with the cross-dressing soldier aspect resonated with me just as Mulan had.
The world that Ahdieh built is also beautiful. I have a soft spot in my heart for feudal Japan. It fascinates me. Ahdieh was not afraid of the details either. The setting really embraces what it is with almost disturbing detail. Most of this tale is dark, complex, and bloody. In those moments our setting is a magical, evil forest or the dark gardens of the Imperial Palace. But so many moments contrast this scenery, such as the beautiful tea house. Even the clothing, decorations, and accessories of the world reflect the mood in a traditional Japanese way. There are dozens of Japanese words tossed in with no definitions appearing on these pages, too. You get context clues or you get nothing. It was intoxicating. Not once did I feel like things were out of time or setting, which is a rare reading experience for me.
Words are foolish. Promises are useless. Anyone can say anything to get what it is they desire. Believe in actions and actions alone.
There were a few major things I struggled with, well, after I got past the first quarter of the book. The first is the excessively flowery language; I found it to be distracting. I understand the feudal Japan has many romantic ties to it related to the physical space and Japanese culture. But it was over the top for me. I didn’t feel like real people would say some of those flowery lines. Plus, the writing could be overly dramatic in an equally distracting manner. As this is my first Ahdieh book, I’ll leave judgment on her writing overall, but Flame in the Mist just didn’t deliver here.
I struggled with the magic system, or really, the complete lack thereof. There is certainly an element of magic in the book. It’s introduced slowly and in small pieces. We never get a whole picture. I think that wouldn’t bother me if it didn’t so obviously drive the plot. I was frustrated when I couldn’t tell if something was magical or not. Just give me a few rules to establish consistency and I’ll be happy!
“You don’t know the beginning of me.” She trembled as she spoke. “And… you will never see the end.”
Overall, a beautiful and intriguing start to Mariko’s story, even if it began a bit on the slow side. There are some amazing secondary character characters, political intrigue, and other plot points I never touched upon in my review. There is quite a bit left to untangle here. I look forward to seeing where Flame in the Mist goes from here.
Thank you to First to Read and Penguin Teen for granting me an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. To learn more about Penguin Teen and Renee Ahdieh check out their respective websites.
What do you think?
- Have you ever picked up a book only to learn after-the-fact that it was part of a series? Share your experience below!
- What do you think of Flame in the Mist? Have you read it? Are you interested in reading it?
- Can you identify other characters in books who lie to themselves as they narrate? Who are they and what books do they come from?