Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Flame in the Mist is the story of Mariko, a girl who wants more than the role society has given her, who wants to do things on her own terms while still being honourable. She is also a girl who, in order to defend her family’s honour, goes running into deep, magical forest in search of the people who tried to kill her. Her path is one of confusion, both of the heart and mind, as well as one of magic, warriors and identity.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It bares many similarities to Mulan, with its own twist on the tale (predictably so, since it’s set in Japan). The plot is one of surprises and, while there was the odd twist I could guess, there were plenty that left me surprised and ready for more. While the prologue was amazing and really drew me in, I found Mariko’s story-line slow to start off with. That being said, once it got going, it really got going. The only part which didn’t work for me was the big romance scene – this just came out of nowhere and felt like it was only in the book for the sake of being in the book.
Mariko is a phenomenal lead in this novel – she is cleaver, stubborn, conflicted and endearing. She makes plenty of mistakes and, no matter whose side you happen to be on at various points in the novel, above all, you want her to come out on top. Unfortunately, the other characters did not have quite the same impact. We’re only introduced to a small number of other characters, which does fit with the tones of the novel nicely. However, of them only Okami and Kenshin makes any real impact, and that’s only towards the end. This does work in the sense of them slowly developing as characters and becoming more complex than Mariko’s initial opinions of them, however it did make them difficult to connect to at the beginning of the novel.
I also feel like, as interesting as the other characters are, I did not get to see enough of them for them to make a lingering impression. This was particularly so with Ranmaru – we got hints of a fun, intriguing character, but not enough to make him feel real. I also wish we could have seen more of the Black Clan members as, aside from Okami, we only really get to know three of the others which reduced the idea of the clan being akin to a family for me.
Characters aside, this world is amazing. Set in feudal Japan, it incorporates Japanese history and custom with fantasy elements, creating a world that completely draws you in. Some of my favourite parts where when we really get to see the magical elements in action and Ahdieh describes these all beautifully. My only wish was to have seen more of it towards the beginning of the novel as, when we do start seeing the magic later on, it does feel a little out of nowhere.
While there were parts of the novel that did not quite work for me, the rest of it more than made up for any issues I did have. The book was simply an incredibly enjoyable read – it required no effort on my part and I was just drawn into the story. Ahdieh has a writing style that is perfect for weaving images in your head and getting to read a novel with strong feminist themes and a brilliant female lead just made me enjoy the book more. I cannot wait for the second book in this duology – Flame in the Mist has raised a few questions which I would really like answered and ended on a couple of cliff-hangers. I would really recommend this book, especially if you’re a fan of Mulan, or just want a stunning cover on your book case.