I was lucky enough to be sent an arc of this book from the publishers, and then I ended up winning an arc in a Goodreads giveaway! It was amazing to be able to hold this highly anticipated book in my hand; the cover was even more gorgeous in person and the arc was floppy! It was a floppy paperback, which is one of my favourite types!
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.
It is not very often that the young adult genre gets Mulan re-tellings, and I am so glad that Renée Ahdieh took it upon herself to create this beautiful story. But even then, this book doesn’t even feel like a re-telling. For one, it is a beautiful novel set in feudal Japan – not China, so the culture is different and our female protagonist does not have to go to war – she infiltrates a ‘gang and doesn’t want them to learn about her identity. However, after finishing the book and looking back, I don’t think that this is a re-telling at all. This is its own original story in its own right. Not once whilst I was reading it did I think ‘ooooh this sounds like that bit in Mulan where…’
The novel is set in a feudal Japan and follows the story of Mariko who is hell-bent on infiltrating the Black Clan to find out whether they set out to kill her or not. What is so good about this story is that all of the characters have these amazing character arcs that just continue to impress me. Mariko is shown not to shy away from trouble; she confronts it, she puts her mind to hard work and doesn’t stop until she accomplishes the task in front of her. She is quick-witted, sarcastic and knowledgable and these characteristics shine through whenever she is talking.
“”Are you every angry you were born a woman?” Yumi sat back on her heels and studied Mariko for a spell.
“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’re born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.””
– Renée Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist
In true Ahdieh style, she explores feminism through her characters and in Flame in the Mist, we see out protagonist constantly questioning why things are different for her because she’s a woman. We see her breaking down those invisible social barriers and proving to herself and to those around her that being a woman does not make her weak. There is also very little romance in this book until the ending, but even then, there is just the right amount of it. Sometimes, it felt a little bit ‘too-in-your-face’ but I really didn’t care because it was perfect and I just wanted to cry.
All of the characters were beautifully written and the just seemed so real. They were all flawed in their own way; no one was perfect. Mariko’s brother, Kenshin was this deeply affectionate man who cared for his sister and wanted nothing more than to bring her home safe and care for her, but then there were sides to him that were far from perfect. This went for the guys in the Black Clan as well. They were deemed this scary, violent group of guys who would murder anything or anyone that would get in their way. This is true in some aspect, but then we are shown how they can be caring, accepting, and forgiving. As I mentioned earlier, all of the characters have amazing character development that I just couldn’t get enough of!
If this review doesn’t make you want to go and buy the book when it comes out, then I should just probably quit reviewing books right now. The hype surrounding this book is real, this book actually has hype for a reason: because it’s so darn brilliant. Well done to Ahdieh for creating another beautiful world that I devoured, and for giving me another female protagonist that I can look up to.
Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review