Flame In The Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 16th, 2017
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 368 pages
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 Stars)
HUGE thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, and Renee Ahdieh for the ARC copy of Flame in the Mist.
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.
A Fantasy with a feudal Japanese setting?!?! YES PLEASE! I wasn’t expecting to love my 1st Ahideh book SO MUCH! but I’m so glad that I did. When we first meet our main protagonist Mariko, we hear her internal thoughts on what it means to be born female vs. male. She isn’t at all acceptant of the old school ideals & traditions of her culture but is also very mindful & respectful of her parents wishes. On her way to Inako, the city of her betrothed, her carriage is attacked with intent to kill. Mariko does manage to escape, and it is her ingenuity that drives her to take the clothes off one of the attackers & go undercover dressed as a boy. It is her belief that the attack is the work of the Black Clan & infiltrating their ranks will lead her to answers. Her course quickly changes however, when she is captured by the Black Clan and taken back to their leader. Mariko manages to keep her cover & slowly gains their confidence. Nothing is as it truly seems with the Black Clan Or the Goodreads blurb (in a good way lol). I’ve seen comparisons to Mulan & although I can see why, I myself did not take it as a re-telling. Set in a fantastical feudal Japan, Ahdieh infuses FITM with tons of culture & it is obvious she did her research. We not only get a gender bender story but we’re also given some politics via the Bushido code which are the laws followed by the Samurai’s of the land. This played an integral part in the story, specifically the Black Clan & I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers. We also get the aspect of the Geiko’s (gave me Geisha feels) who are females living & providing entertainment in tea houses where men of important affluence frequent. Mariko’s encounter with both the Black Clan & the Geiko’s leave her questioning her reality & the morality/intentions of those closest to her. I enjoyed the discussion that took place regarding both Bushido law & the existence of Geiko’s as it only helped build a more well rounded world. The second half of this book had me feeling like I was watching an episode of Game of Thrones & that is a very good thing lol! So many players on the chess board now, all with their own motives & as I previously stated…NOTHING is as it seems 😉
When we first are introduced to Mariko, we learn that she is VERY intelligent, observant, and strategic. Often looking on her twin brother Kenshin’s privilege at having been born male with a bit of envy. Mariko loves Kenshin aka The Dragon of Kai but she also wishes she didn’t have to submit to the social norms of marriage & domesticity. At the same time, Mariko doesn’t wish to bring shame to her family and this is what keeps her on course to fulfill their wishes to marry in hopes of elevating their status. It was a ton of fun following Mariko’s progression via infiltration of the Black Clan. Extremely resourceful & loyal, Mariko has now joined my small hall of fave fictional characters. Now, we also meet Kenshin her twin brother who is hot on her trail trying to find her. Kenshin who is under the impression that Mariko has been abducted, will stop at nothing to find her. I found myself liking Kenshin’s bond to Mariko but more importantly his acceptance of her “non-ordinary” nature. He may have wished she would conform just a little to make things easier but he never forced her to change. He’s always been aware of her passion for more in life, something not typically voiced or seen in the women of this world. Once in the Black Clan, we are introduced to a few members but the two that are focused on are Ranmaru and Okami. These two have a ton of history binding them, not all of it is good but goes back to their fathers. They are more like brothers now who watch eachothers back with Ranmaru being the leader & Okami the shield. LOVED these two! there’s also more than meets the eye with these two haha! discovering what hides beneath these complex characters was one of the best parts of this book. The ending of FITM brings some background characters to the forefront & begins to lay the framework for the sequel. With tons more cut throat characters coming out of the woodwork, i’m highly anticipating the sequel.
I’m a HUGE fan of lush worlds both real & fantastical, with Flame In The Mist Ahdieh delivers a huge dose of culture set in a fantasy feudal Japan. I LOVE when an author’s research jumps off the page & feeds my imagination vividly. Starting off with the very first page that lists the Bushido Code, I knew I was in for some serious story telling & that is what I got! complete with a glossary in the back of the book, FITM is a feast for any lover of cultural anthropology & Fantasy. I LOVED the underlying message of female empowerment in this book, especially seeing as it was coming from some of the male characters. Its been a while since I’ve come across male characters I truly enjoyed, Okami & Ranmaru are hands down two of my faves. Well paced, FITM unravels bit by bit leaving you with some OH I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING! moments haha! There is a romance & I appreciated that it was a slow burn (my favorite!) with all of the back & forth banter that made me smile & shake my head. The last half of this book took on a different tone once the plot thickened & motives were made known. You’ll see power play moves being made that may leave you feeling like you’re in a game of Chess. Add to the mix the fantastical aspect & I just couldn’t stop flipping the pages fast enough. Filled with culture, politics, intrigue, subterfuge, and double-crossings… Flame In The Mist is hands down one of my top Fantasy reads of 2017 😉