Publisher: Chapter 5 Books/Hodder
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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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.
If Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh isn’t on your ‘to buy immediately’ list, get ready to add it. The Wrath and the Dawn was one of my favourite books on 2015, so much so that I actually couldn’t bring myself to read The Rose and the Dagger because I couldn’t bear the idea of it ending, and I still haven’t. But after Flame in the Mist, I think I might just have to in an attempt to fill the Renée Ahdieh writing shaped hole in my heart.
Flame in the Mist is marketed as a Mulan combined with 47 Ronin YA fantasy. Though 47 Ronin I haven’t watched, Mulan is without a doubt one of my most favourite Disney movies. Even though I only watched it recently (seriously, last year), the story really stuck with me and when I heard the wonderful Ahdieh would be writing a story that resembled Mulan’s story, I was super excited. And then I saw that cover.
The story follows Mariko who has been married off to the Emperor’s son, but when her convoy is attacked while on route to the palace, everything turns upside down. Despite the death and carnage surrounding her, and a near-death experience, Mariko is tempted by the idea of freedom. Not only that, but she is determined to find out who had tried to kill her and why. She does this by disguising herself as a boy and infiltrating the Black Clan, which isn’t an easy task. Despite her best efforts, she finds herself growing to care for the members of the Clan, and something doesn’t seem right…
Behind the characters who stole my heart, the heart-racing action scenes and subtle romance, the story’s message is without a doubt focused on female empowerment. Mariko’s life has been planned out from her for as long as she can remember, and she is treated like an object rather than a human being whereas her twin brother is granted the freedom Mariko so desperately craves. Maybe this is what spurs Mariko to disguise herself as a boy and to prove her worth by infiltrating the Black Clan, and even though she is treated like dirt by the clan members at first, it gives her a sense of freedom and independence she’s never had before.
|I think Mariko and Inej would make such good friends.|
I’ve also come to find that no-one writes romance – and complex characters – quite like Renée Ahdieh, and she makes the most innocent scenes seem tantalising. Seriously, I was blushing for most of the last half of the book. That just reminded me of this one scene where one of the characters tries to make Mariko uncomfortable/blush by talking about love. But I’m going off track. Let’s talk about Okami, the shadow boy who stole his way into my heart. I felt the need to mention him and the fact that he was my favourite character (with the exception of Mariko herself) but I really don’t want to spoil anything more.
Renée Ahdieh twists a tale of adventure, mystery and heart-melting romance with beautiful prose. The way she incorporates an entire language and culture into her books has become a trademark of sorts, and pairs flawlessly with her melodic writing. In a way, I am reminded of Laini Taylor’s writing in Strange the Dreamer, which I only recently read. Ahdieh continues to steal my heart with her tales and now that I’ve read more than one of her books, I can confidently say that she has become one of my favourite authors.
Favourite quote: “To me, you are magic.”