Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Published by Hachette Australia, Hodder & Stoughton on May 18, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
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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.
A Mulan inspired story set in historical Japan, what’s not to love about Flame in the Mist? Unfortunately, I found it to be a disappointing read, wishing it was something it was not.
The novel starts out strong as the Emperor’s daughter Mariko, finds herself as the target of the Black Clan bandits and barely escapes with her life. In order to gain vengeance and prevent this threat from her royal family, she dresses as a boy and joins the Black Clan to find out their plans.
If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.
After she joins the Black Clan however, the novel really slows down as Mariko gets to know each and every one of them. She’s fearless, sarcastic and often tests the leaders of the Clan, and I had no idea why they let this mysterious stranger who they know IS LYING TO THEM get away with it. Already, I began questioning what the motives of the Black Clan were, who are supposedly murderers and thieves. With the honourable Okami, who is a fearless Wolf set to train Mariko in weapons and thievery, and the leader Raiden, Mariko begins warming to the clan. Even though they sought out to kill her.
I found I had to constantly suspend my disbelief during Mariko’s journey, as she continually snarks out the leaders of the Black Clan. At one stage, she even lodges a THROWING STAR in Okami’s back, with little consequence. This is brushed off and to my further disbelief, a romance blooms from this. It happens suddenly built upon lies, lies between each other, lies to the people they trust in. I can’t really get behind a romance like this.
I liked Mariko’s sass, intellect and drive to do what’s right, but I thought she brushed aside her initial beliefs too easily and betrayal happens too quickly. Like The Wrath and the Dawn, the same type of twist occurs and I felt like I saw it coming from a mile away. There’s a strong thread of feminism in the book, which I appreciated as Mariko constantly questioned why she couldn’t do things that males did. But I liked the lesson she learnt, that women could wield influence in other ways.
The perspective shifts to her brother Kenshin who is the Dragon of Kai, a famed samurai of the Emperor. He’s known for honour, for violence and for doing what’s right. But as we hear more of him, my perspective of him shifted – he was incredibly boring and we were repetitively told the same thing about him every time he appeared. He’s searching for Mariko, he wants to find Mariko, Mariko couldn’t have done this, Mariko couldn’t have done that. His character felt really forced to me.
I’ve been blind to so much. I’ve thought I possessed the truth so often. When in truth I’ve possessed nothing.
If you’re interested in Flame in the Mist, you probably want to know about how the Japanese setting was pulled off. Set in an undisclosed part of historical Japan, I loved the beautiful cherry blossoms, the throwing stars and the maiko who appeared in the story. With Abdieh’s enchanting writing, I was transported to the land of the rising sun. However, it didn’t feel entirely authentic to me for some reason.
The names of the characters, reflecting Japanese anime and pop culture had me constantly questioning the validity of the story though, which could’ve been entirely a coincidence, but pulled me out of the story (eg. Kenshin from the anime Rurouni Kenshin, Raiden from Mortal Kombat, etc.).
As a YA historical fantasy set in the Eastern setting, I definitely had high expectations for Flame in the Mist. Unfortunately, due to the forced characters and plot, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It’s a slow read where you have to suspend your disbelief at times, although I did appreciate the Japanese setting.
By the way, there’s a glossary at the back for the Japanese words used in the story. You’re welcome.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Thanks Hachette Australia for the review copy of the book.
Flame in the Mist is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.