Flame in the Mist
by Renee Ahdieh
Kindle edition, 416 pages
Published May 16th, 2017 by Putnam Juvenile
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.
Shazi Mariko’s way to meet her betrothed, her convoy was attacked, and everyone died except her. She believed the one responsible for attacking her was the Black Clan, so she decided to infiltrate the clan to gain the trust of Jalal Ranmaru and Khalid Okami. Meanwhile, her brother Tariq Kenshin is hellbent on finding her.
From my summary above, you might have guessed my biggest problem with this book: it is too similar. While The Wrath and The Dawn was my favorite book last year, it doesn’t mean that I like reading about it all over again in a different book. This issue distracts me from immersing myself fully in the story and to connect with the characters.
Now we get that aside, let’s move to the positives. As always, Ahdieh’s writing is beautiful. It’s not as poetic as in her previous books, but it still painted a lush and vivid imagery of the story.
Mariko is quieter and more reserved than Shazi, but that doesn’t mean she’s less kick-ass. She thought about everything thoroughly before speaking or acting, instead of letting her temper get the best of everything. She’s also willing to learn and more open to new perspective, and this is why I find I like her more than Shazi.
Other than Mariko, I can’t say about other characters. I feel nothing for them except interest. I’d love to know more about Kenshin, Okami, Ranmaru, Raiden, and the Black Clan themselves. I’d like to know more about the politics and the people in it. And obviously, I’d love to know more about the magic in this book. I really wish the author will fleshed it out in next book instead of giving it no resolve (like the curse thingy in TWATD).
As for the plot, I find it evenly paced. It’s not too fast or too slow, giving me enough time to immerse myself in the story yet enough action to keep me interested. While some twist took longer to me to guess, in the end, I can see all of them before they were actually revealed. I find the story itself is more of 47 Ronin than Mulan, because other than the cross-dressing aspect, there’s nothing in this story that follows Mulan. 47 Ronin, on the other hand, seems to be the main inspiration. Also, the whole “a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder…” mentioned in the summary is kind of not true at all, since everything was pretty much explained at the beginning.
So that’s how I feel about this book. While it has a really good story, writing, and characters, it felt too similar to Ahdieh’s previous books which distract me from truly enjoying the story. I will still read the next book though since there are a lot of things need to be explained and I’m curious about them.