Flame in the Mist, by Renee Ahdieh

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.

 

AAAAAAAAAAA!!!I love this book so much I could scream forever. When I first found out that I got an ARC I was so excited I couldn’t stop jumping up and down. It’s my first book by Renee, but it definitely won’t be the last. Not only did the plot sound very exciting, but the praise surrounding Ahdieh and her previous works was huge, so I know I had found a gem. Flame in the Mist, however, managed something I almost thought impossible: to surpass my expectations.

 

The first 15-20 % of the book was a bit slower than the rest; and it was absolutely vital to the story. I think that, by making the first part – where Mariko is still the daughter of noble family – slower than the rest – when she lets go of her identity and follows the Black Clan – Ahdieh managed to show the contrast of Mariko’s previous lifestyle to her current one, without confusing flashbacks or endless inner monologues; the book’s pacing solely showcases these differences.

 

I looooved this book’s setting. Set in feudal Japan, its time and place were vital and played key-roles in the story. This particular story could not have been set in another country. Which brings me to a point I’ve wanted to make for quite some time now: the setting (both time and place) should actually play a part in the story. How often, while reading a contemporary set somewhere in the US, have I thought “I seriously have no idea where this book takes place” or “Switch a few street names and this could literally be a million different american cities” ? See, setting is actually vital for giving your story life, for making it stand apart from the rest. And Flame in the Mist uses its setting to its full potential; all it takes is a few simple, beautiful lines from Ahdieh and the places materialize in front of your eyes, offering a unique story.

 

Probably the book’s best part and highest asset is its characters. Ahdieh’s characterisation shines throughout her pages: more “show” and less “tell”, she creates three-dimensional, well-developed characters, each one unique in their traits, agendas and interests. Even characters that seemed unimportant, irrelevant or shallow at first, quickly develop into almost fleshed out human beings and it’s wonderful. The relationships between the characters, their love, their hate, their need for one another, move the story forward; especially the bonds of the Black Clan, a pleasant surprise that I can’t wait to see explored and developed even more into the second instalment.

 

So, is this book a Mulan re-telling as has been said? No, not really. It may have been inspired by Mulan, but no more than the Throne of Glass series is inspired by Cinderella – which, until someone pointed it out, had completely escaped my notice. There are some similarities, but neither the place nor the way this story goes will remind you of Mulan.

 

**An ARC was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.**

 

 

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