Flame in the Mist

August 27, 2017
Flame in the Mist Book Cover Flame in the Mist
Flame in the Mist, #1
Renee Ahdieh
Historical Fiction
Penguin Teen
May 16th, 2017
First to Read

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.

(via Goodreads)


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?


  • hannahpotamus August 27, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Fantastic review!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book! I personally didn’t care for Mariko HAHA, I’m such a hater. :’) I do agree that the writing, though beautiful, could be a bit too much at times. Soo much flowery prose! I’m probably still going to pick up the next book because I have too many questions left after that ending. XD

    • Jackie B August 27, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Yessss. Perhaps we could do a buddy read? Since we both seemed to get stuck on the same aspects, I imagine our counterpoint would be HILARIOUS.

      • hannahpotamus August 28, 2017 at 10:24 pm

        Ooooh, that would be so fun!! <3

        Seriously, I have sooo many questions left after this book, I need to find out what's actually happening in the story. I hope I end up changing my mind and loving it, though. :') Who knows?? Mariko may miraculously be redeemed in my eyes. 😛

  • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads August 27, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here! I liked the book, but the writing could be a little too flowery and the pacing definitely could’ve been better. I haven’t read her other books either, so it’s hard to tell whether her writing in general is really flowery or if it’s just this book.

    • Jackie B August 27, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      Since her other book is based on 1001 Nights which is (in my humble opinion) FAR more “romantic” than feudal Japan, I assume the language would be just as flowery. But, there is only one way to find out! Too bad those books are further down my TBR. So many books… so little time. 😉

      • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads August 28, 2017 at 8:44 am

        Ah, that’s true. I do have that duology on my TBR, but who knows when I’ll get to it, haha. Like you said, so many books, so little time 😛

  • Adoptabookaus August 27, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve seen a lot of people give this 3 and I can see why, I think there was a lot of hype because of how popular her last books were and this just didn’t live up to the promises. I *was* really pumped for this book because federal Japan but it’s on the back burner for me at the moment which I dont mind seeing as it’s not a standalone and I’d have to wait for the next anyways.
    I do like flowery writing so I’m interested to see how I’ll go with it when I do pick it up but my expectations are definitely lower then what they originally were. Great review!

    • Jackie B August 27, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks. Casey! Yeah, I like to binge read series– I wish we had more fantasy standalone novels. I really should classify this as historical fantasy, but I feel like anything set in feudal Japan will have a fantasy element since there is so much given over to gods and spirits and how things are worshiped…

      I look forward to seeing what you think some day. I think it was certainly worth the read– so don’t put it off forever. 😉

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel August 28, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Glad you enjoyed the read. I have read many reviews that say the same thing – about how the pacing was off and the language was not necessarily what the book demands. So you are not the only one. Well, atleast it was not a very bad read.

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 10:37 am

      It makes me feel good to know that great minds think alike in this sense! I will definitely watch for the rest of the series. I don’t have a ton of hope that the elements I am not a fan of will improve, as this will be her 4th book, but who knows!?

  • Sarah @ Reviews and Readathons August 28, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Great review! I have this one from the library and I’m eager to get to it. I really liked Ahdieh’s duology retelling of 1,001 Nights–so I have high hopes!

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 11:08 am

      That’s great! I haven’t read her other duology yet– but I am excited to try them out. I am most curious to see where there are parallels and how Ahdieh’s writing has improved between these books. I love watching debut authors grow!

      • Sarah @ Reviews and Readathons September 1, 2017 at 12:57 pm

        Yeah, I’ve been excited for Flame in the Mist for awhile! Hopefully I get to it before I have to return it to the library…

        • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 2:18 pm

          Story of my life. The number of times I check out a book, only to have to return it before I have to review it… well, it’s an embarrassingly large number. O_o Good luck!

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity August 28, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    I feel like most people enjoyed this book but didn’t fall 100% in love with it. I was hesitant to add it to my TBR after I read about how mixing a Chinese tale (Mulan) with Japanese history was quite disrespectful, especially since the author is not Chinese.

    As for the story… books that start out quickly and then lose momentum can be hard for me to get into. I much prefer it the other way around. Being immersed into the story at the beginning of a book is something I love a lot, it allows me to acclimate to the world, and get to know the characters and what they’re like before big, life-changing things happen to them.

    I’m not sure if I will ever pick this one up, but maybe! I hope you like the second book, Jackie, and that it includes the things you felt were missing from this one 🙂

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 11:36 am

      Oh interesting– I never thought about that. Do you have a link you could share to the article or blog or whatever explained how mixing Chinese and Japanese concepts is disrespectful? I’d love to learn more.

      I totally understand why you might never pick this book up, Chiara. I’m glad I could help you cull something from your TBR– we could all use more help with that!

  • KrystiYAandWine August 28, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Wonderful review, my friend! I did really enjoy this book. I enjoy flowery writing. Huge fan of authors like Stephanie Garber and Laini Taylor, so that part worked really well for me. I also really enjoyed Mariko’s character arc. It felt logical and like a natural progression for her character.

    I would have really liked more information around the magic, like you said. It is kind of just there in this book, and not ever clearly defined. I’m hoping that’s because it’s a first book in the series and the unveiling of how all the magic works and the roles it plays in this world will be a major element of book two, but we’ll have to wait to see. I’m big on magic systems having specific rules and functioning within set boundaries, so if book two doesn’t include more information around that it will definitely impact my opinion on both books.

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Thank you! I haven’t read anything by Garber or Taylor yet (I know, I know– I should get on that! But there are so many books, where do I even start?!), so I can’t speak to your comparison. I’m not *opposed* to flowery language– it just felt overdone. I’d love to read a book by another author you feel writes in a similar fashion to see if this is just my personal preference or my interpretation of Ahdieh’s writing. Because, I do love me some Jane Austen.

      I agree about the magic system. Please explain yourself in book two or I will be very unhappy. Quite. Quite.

      • KrystiYAandWine August 29, 2017 at 6:31 pm

        I think people in general expect and tolerate flowery language in classics more so than in modern books. We expect it of them. Modern books are way more focused on moving the plot forward. The Night Circus and Strange the Dreamer are probably my best examples of books with flowery language in them.

        Totally agree, Jackie! 🙂

        • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 10:40 pm

          That’s so true; the language just feels *right* in the Classics.

          OH MAN. The Night Circus is my favoritest book of all time. I guess it does have sorta flowery language in it… but I never noticed. Hm.

          Everyone has had great things to say about Strange the Dreamer. I best get on that, hm? It’s those darn series books… I feel like I’m always in the dust.

          • KrystiYAandWine August 30, 2017 at 9:35 pm

            Exactly! I didn’t know you were a Night Circus fan! That’s one of my favorites too!

            Strange the Dreamer is just a duology, so if you wait until next year, you’ll be golden.

            • Jackie B August 31, 2017 at 10:54 am

              BRILLIANT! Thanks for the tip. Okay, both Strange the Dreamer books next year. I love adding things to my “scheduled future” TBR, instead of the “Whenever I get to it” TBR. 😉

              • KrystiYAandWine August 31, 2017 at 8:56 pm

                Right?! It makes it seem more likely to happen. LOL.

  • Grab the Lapels August 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    I’ve read many reviews of this book lately. One thing I didn’t notice before is how choppy the sentences are (or at least in the quotes you included). It reminds me of the book I’m reading to my husband right now, which has a toad that talks. His sentences are very short to suggest the “ribbit ribbit” sound a toad might make. Everything, as a result, sounds like a list. Thus, I was surprised when you wrote the language is flowery!

  • theorangutanlibrarian August 29, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Great review! I’ve wanted to read this for ages- especially cos I love Mulan 😉 Shame about the pacing at the beginning. I love the sound of Mariko’s character for sure. Sounds like it’s worth reading, even if it’s a little slow at times.

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Agreed! I am definitely looking forward to the second book. I have high hopes for improvement on many levels. I hope that you enjoy this if/when you get to it!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 29, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Great review Jackie! I have been wanting to read this but all the 3 star reviews are putting me off… delusional characters are not fun to me either and heavy language is a turn off… i actually have read Ahdieh’s duology. I didn’t hate it but the magic was ALWAYS vague and half forned… hopefully she’s read the valid criticism on this one and has strengthened the magic system for book 2. I don’t remember her language being flowery in the duology. Some writers get heavy handed after a little success… they are trying too hard (my opinion, 2 cents) Comprehensive I really liked reading what you had to say ♥️

    • Jackie B August 30, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks, Dani! Yeah– I wouldn’t bump this to the top of anyone’s TBR, but I’m definitely interested in seeing how you think this compares to some of the other feudal-Asian books you’ve read before. But no pressure to read this! Part of my mission is to help people cull books from their TBR. 😀

  • LizScanlon September 4, 2017 at 11:01 am

    I love the sound of political intrigue 😀 flowery writing? It can be good and it can be too much, I wonder how I would find it in this one? I have seen the book everywhere of course but I never felt compelled enough to actually go out of my way to get it and read it… Great review, gave me something to mull over on whether I should read it or not 🙂

    • Jackie B September 5, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      I don’t know if this will be up your alley, honestly. It’s not as violent as it could be. 😉 But seriously, I think that the flowery language might be only notable in that it is distracting. I don’t think I would have noticed it otherwise!

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