Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 16th May 2017
Pages: 416, hardback
Genre: young adult, fantasy, romance, retelling
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.
Flame in the Mist was one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, but somehow I never got around to reading it! I finally picked it up after writing my blog post on my fantasy TBR, which got me really in the mood for this genre, and I am so glad I did not wait any longer. I have been looking forward to sharing this review all week, as I have so much love for this book!
What intrigued me about this book from the beginning was it’s marketing: a retelling of Milan. Sounds perfect, right? Once I started reading, I found that it the story followed the plot of Mulan very loosely; aside from the fact that Mariko disguised herself as a boy, the story really took on a life of its own, which I loved! This book was action packed, with a little bit of romance and mystery, which, in my opinion, is absolutely perfect.
I loved the fact that Mariko wasn’t an excellent warrior straight away, and that aside from her determination, she didn’t possess many ‘typical’ fighting skills. Because although this is the case in many high fantasy books, at the end of the day she has never trained as a fighter before, and so this is far more realistic! Additionally, I appreciated how Mariko always tried to stick to her morals, and didn’t always succeed, because it made her seem so much more relatable and human as a character. Honestly, I just loved Mariko as a protagonist, as she went through so much character development in this novel, and I know there is scope for even more in the sequel!
The themes in this book really brought the story to life, in my opinion – loyalty and morality were central to the plot and the characters, and I think these are two very important these, and ones which aren’t included in YA that often. I also love how Mariko came to terms with her femininity throughout the book; she resents it at first, but slowly begins to realise that her gender is not weakness, but a strength, and not something she should try to hide.
The romance between Mariko and Ōkami was also really well written in my opinion; it was very subtle, especially since both characters are heterosexual and Ōkami thought Mariko was a boy, and I quite enjoyed the lack of a love triangle in the story. It was also quite different from other cliché romances I’ve read in fantasy novels – yes, it was angsty at times, but there were also times when the two characters acted completely rationally, rather than prolonging the drama (which saved my heart a lot of pain).
To all my fellow fantasy-lovers out there, I cannot recommend this book enough. Flame in the Mist is a dazzling story filled with suspense, love and action; I’m already finding myself wanting to reread it, and I am so excited for the second book to come out! I couldn’t possibly give this book anything less than five stars, and I wish I could give it more!