Tuesday, May 30, 2017

[Review] Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Format: ARC Paperback
Rating: 4.5 stars

Published: May 16th 2017

Goodreads Synopsis:
The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires. Renee Ahdieh is well-known for her The Wrath and the Dawn duology, which was a romantic retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. 
I received this ARC from Miss Print's (Emma) ARC Adoption over here! Thank you Emma!

Flame in the Mist has its hints of romance, yes, but this is a dark story. Emphasis on dark. It's nothing like TWATD. The way Ahdieh juggles two extremely different genres is masterful and precise. You know you're in for one hell of a ride when the opening pages feature the seppuku of a character's father. 

What a great ride it was. Flame in the Mist had the action, but it also had a great story behind it, as well as well-rounded characters. 

Our heroine Mariko lives in a time where girls are expected to get married and not much else. Feudal Japan is slowly shifting from the reign of shogunate/emperor to just the emperor alone, and she's off to meet her betrothed, Prince Raiden, who is son of the emperor. However, this does not go as planned when her convoy is attacked and she's the sole survivor. She can't fend for herself as a girl, so she disguises herself as Sanada Takeo, and joins the Black Clan, who she suspects attacked her convoy. What she doesn't realizes is that her so-called enemies may actually end up her friends. 

Mariko's a great heroine - she's calculating and a badass. She's grows throughout the novel - she's sheltered at first and doesn't recognize corruption, but she soon sees the Robin Hood-esque nature of the Black Clan. She's incredibly self-sufficient and never a damsel-in-distress. 

But it had been Mariko's first time, and - for that one time only - she'd wanted her body to be her own. The decision to be hers and hers alone. Her body was not for sale. It did not belong to her parents to sell to the highest bidder. Nor did it belong to Minamoto Raiden or to any other man.
She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one's match was like finding one's other half. Mairko had never understood the notion.
She was not a half. She was wholly her own. 

Even our supporting cast wasn't lacking. Her twin Kenshin had his moments - he was an excellent juxtaposition to Mariko, and despite his actions, we end up sympathizing with such a complex character. 

I really loved Okami, and wanted more of this lazy, smirking fighter of the Black Clan. He and Mariko work so well together, in the moments that romance is brought up. When romance is present, it's not lacking with these two. 

What I especially loved about Flame in the Mist was its strong feminist vibe. There is a scene where Mariko despairs about being a girl, but Yumi sets her straight. 

Though she was surprised to hear Yumi call Okami a coward, Mariko could not help but agree on this score. "We are given less," she continued arguing her point. "We are treated as less. And whenever we make a mistake, it is weighed so much greater."
"The only great mistakes are the mistakes that remain ignored."
Mariko sniffed. "I'm tired of being treated this way."
"Have you felt as though you are incapable of fighting back?"
"For most of my life I have not fought back."
Yumi laughed, and the sound brought to mind a set of wind chimes. "Okami warned me you were quite a liar. I see what he meant."
"Why do you believe me to be lying?"
"Because, Hattori Mariko, you are not one to conform to any man's expectations. Is that not - in a way - a manner of fighting back?" She smiled. "Believe me when I tell you I would not want to sleep with my feet pointed in your direction."
"Believe me when I say you would be alone in thinking that." Mariko frowned.
Yumi inclined her head, her expression thoughtful. "There is much strength in being a woman. But it is strength you must choose for yourself. No one can choose it for you. We can bend the wind to our ear if we would only try." 

It's just so marvelous to hear all of this?! 

My only complaint with this book is the pacing, which in the beginning seemed very slow but was more fast paced in the latter part of the story. Also, very many characters, so it can be a bit confusing as to who is who (though you do connect everyone soon enough!). 

Also, biggest complaint is... Where's the sequel? I demand a sequel to such a lovely book. 

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