author: Renée Ahdieh
series: Flame in the Mist #1
published: 16 May 2017
publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
buy/shelve it: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | BookBub | BookHype | Goodreads
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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.
Flames in the Mist was a wonderful journey from the very first page to the very last. It was full of Japanese mythology and culture, samurai, secrets, intrigue, magic, a badass female heroine, and the perfect amount of romance. It’s set in feudal Japan, and the world is painted beautifully.
Mariko is at the center of the story, the daughter of a samurai who has been betrothed to the Emperor’s eldest, but illegitimate, son. But as she is journeying to the city to her betrothed, her caravan is attacked. She is the only survivor, although no one yet knows that. And she is determined to find out who and why she and her people were attacked.
There is so much to enjoy about this book. The mythology of it is beautiful and mysterious, with forest spirits and trees that live off the blood of those around them. And the characters… every single one of them is incredibly interesting. They all add something to the overall story in their own ways. Each character has their own story, their own secrets, their own motivations, making them all very complex and nuanced.
What I loved best is Mariko’s character and the emphasis put upon her intelligence rather than her looks or physical strength. Her ability to think critically, to solve problems… these were the things of importance. To see her succeed by using her brain was lovely.
And then the romance. It wasn’t the main thrust of the story, which I appreciated. But it was perfection, completely swoon-worthy, which is not something I usually feel. Two strong people who appreciated and supported each other without trying to change one another. Loved it!
This book, and its sequel Smoke in the Sun are often touted as a Mulan retelling. In truth, even if you ignore the fact that this book is set in feudal Japan rather than China, that’s probably a biit of a stretch. At no point does Mariko battle in the way the Mulan did. Her battles are much more subtle. For me, the stronger connection between the two is found in the fact that both girls masquerade for a time as boys.
This was a beautifully written book with a strong female protagonist. In other words, a WIN!
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