Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: Retelling, Fantasy, Romance
Page Count: 393
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books
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.
Rating this as 4.5 stars simply because the beginning was a bit slow, but after the first 20% it changed for the better!
Let’s just establish that this story is slightly based off of Mulan which is ONE OF THE BEST HEROINES EVER! And Mariko, the main character of Flame in the Mist, did not dishonor her predecessor. In fact this story has quite a few more twists in my opinion!
We learn from the first pages that Mariko is seen as a bargaining chip that is to be used to create an advantageous marriage with the prince to raise her father’s status. Mariko’s convoy is attacked on the way to the palace by samurai of the Black Clan. This provokes Mariko to survive by whatever means necessary to discover why they murdered those who traveled with her and to also seek vengeance. (Cue dramatic music as the heroine cuts her hair with determined eyes set on her goals!)
Different POVs are also introduced to carry the story along and one such perspective came from Mariko’s brother. Kenshin is the samurai known as The Dragon of Kai and it was clear how he was dedicated to saving his sister no matter how many people told him otherwise. Sadly over the course of the story it becomes clear that Mariko and Kenshin’s goals start to shift and place them on opposing sides. (I won’t say how this comes about, but the ending really hits hard the most when it comes to these two.)
Mariko’s journey has her crossing paths with the Black Clan and eventually joining them to gain insight into their plans while concealing her true identity. What she shockingly discovers is that the Black Clan helps the poor by stealing from the rich. This makes Mariko understand that her father has mistreated their people and that if she wants to make a change then Mariko is going to have to take those steps herself. THEN SO MUCH CHARACTER GROWTH HAPPENS! It was incredible seeing Mariko interact with members of the Black Clan while understanding that each person has their own unique strength. Even Mariko understands that her biggest strength is not her physical capabilties, but in the fact that she is resourceful and won’t give up without a fight.
“Bravery did not come to her naturally. She spent too much time weighing her options to be brave. Too much time calculating the many paths before her. But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward.”
Now enter Okami, the wolf who pesters and pushes Mariko’s buttons in the best way possible. Of course Mariko gives him a taste of his own teasing and this sets up a remarkable relationship of a teetering trust where two people slowly learn to rely on each other. Okami has a dark history and knows the costs of what trusting the wrong people can lead to. He doesn’t want his friends who are more like family to suffer at the hands of those who abuse power for their own gain.
But what makes me respect Okami even more is how he treats Mariko as an equal regardless of her gender or position in society.
“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. 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.”
Honestly I still can’t fathom how amazing this story was! I finished it in one sitting, because the plot was so entrancing with the feudal Japan setting with a little mix of magic and myth to stir into this glorious creation! On top of that we have relatable characters who add both hilarious content as well as the occasional inspiring moment that makes you think more about serious topics.
The one quote that struck the deepest chord with me was from a side character. Mariko questions a geiko at a tea house she visited and asks the woman how she feels about being born a female. To this the geiko response with such wise words:
“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
Then the ending left us with such a huge cliffhanger! There were so many reveals at the end yet author still managed to dangle us on a precipice of wanting to know more! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE! And then the last scene sets up a whole new challenge that is going to await the characters in the second book. My patience will definitely be tested as I wait for the sequel. (Or maybe I can ask the Black Clan to help a girl out by getting the next book early.)
What did you think of Flame in the Mist? Are there any other retellings you would love to read?