There’s been so much hype surrounding this book. Let me break down for you what I liked, what I didn’t like and why you need to think carefully about how you describe this book.
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 should have loved this book. By my reckoning this should have been one of those books that I devour in a day and then read again the next. I’m not suggesting that this book wasn’t enjoyable. It was a really good YA novel with a really cool main character just for some reason I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I have done other fantasy novels.
I wonder if, when the series continues, I’ll grow to love it more, in fact the more I write the more I realise how daft I’m being. Of course I liked the book! I think the problem for me was that I heard quite a few people talking about how this was in some way like Mulan. Now I in no way mind that it was not. Because other than the part where she dresses as a boy/man…the story is almost entirely different. You could just as easily have said it was similar to Twelfth Night (or a lot of other Shakespeare) because the story of ‘Woman dresses as man for own safety’ is not actually unique to Mulan. So are we just comparing the two because they are both set in Asia despite the fact that Mulan is a character from Chinese history and Flame in the Mist is set in Japan? I can understand why it makes sense to compare the two…but I think my enjoyment of the book was a little bit spoiled by the fact that I kept trying to see more Mulan connections than there actually were.
*rant about marketing over*
Mariko (our main character) was actually really cool. I know some people have made comments on how sometimes her actions seem a little illogical but I kind of identified with that, I tend to act a bit irrationally at times too. She seemed like a cool person whose story I got pretty invested in and I think I’ll continue to like her as the series continues.
The romance was actually pretty darn tolerable, which I wasn’t expecting. Even for a teenager obsessing over the tall dark handsome etc. Mariko didn’t make me cross or wanting to punch anyone/thing at any point. I won’t delve to far at the risk of spoilers but trust that the romance is ok.
What was interesting to me is that the fantasy elements of the book were sort of underplayed. I thought there was going to be a whole lot more fantasy in this book and for the most part (other than the fact that it isn’t a real story-duh) this was pretty realistic. If I could make one request for the sequel Renee Ahdieh, could we get even more magical? It would bring me joy.
All in all, as I say, I wasn’t as obsessed with this book as I thought I was going to be, but I think that was a product of me going in with my expectations set way too high rather than a fault of the book itself.
My Rating : 4.5/5 stars (only because I wanted more fantasy)
By the way: I received a digital advanced review copy of Flame in the Mist from the publisher (Hodder & Stoughton) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all my opinions are my own and I wouldn’t recommend this if I didn’t think it was worth reading.
Have you read this? Planning to? Let me know what your thoughts are on twitter (@judithcmoore) or in the comments below.