Flame in the Mist - Book Review
UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
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 own 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.
I enjoyed this book, but didn't really see it as the big “Mulan” retelling many have labelled it as. Not only is the story set in Japan, but the pages carry hints of mythology, dashes of fantasy and a nice slow-burn romance. I will most definitely be reading the next book.
Mariko knows her greatest weapon is her mind. Yet being born a girl, she grimly accepts her fate to marry and remain silent like any good future empress should. But when her carriage is attacked and Mariko left for dead, she rises from the ashes and sets out to find the men responsible for her supposed demise.
Disguising herself as a boy, she succeeds in infiltrating the enemy camp, but there she discovers more than just her family’s best kept secret. For the first time Mariko’s opinions are valued, and she learns there is more to these thugs and thieves then she could ever have imagined. Now Mariko must choose between following her heart… or protecting her family from the man she loves…
I enjoyed this story, but it was slow to start and took me a few chapters to sink into. It wasn't until I was nearly a third of the way through that I became really invested in the story, but after that point the pacing really picked up and I devoured the rest in a night.
And boy does this book pack it all. Samurai, Ninja, Demons, Magic, Emperors, Betrayals… the list goes on and on. These elements were creatively woven together to produce some great imagery that made for a winding tale dotted with hidden twists and surprises.
However in terms of world building, I occasionally struggled to keep track of all the politics and reasons behind who was fighting who and for what reason. The same with the magic system. I didn't fully grasp the mechanics of it, especially since the magic exploded into the story nearer the end of the book. However I’m sure this will be explained more in book 2. Yet despite these few gripes, I still really enjoyed this book. The descriptions were detailed and the prose flowed very smoothly.
As for the characters, I think many girls will relate to the heroine, Mariko. While not physically strong, she was in no way a helpless maiden. She put effort into learning new skills, while calling on her other, hard-won abilities to ensure her own survival.
Having said that, another gripe I had was that we spent the first half of the book hearing (generally from Mariko herself) about just how clever she was, but we didn't really get to see her sharp mind put to use until near the end. I often found myself questioning her decisions throughout the story, but then again, the plot was often fuelled by her choices which led to the story’s progression.
Romance also has a part, but it’s a back burner to the main plot. However the unexpected love adds extra conflict and intrigue to the plot and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
The Black Clan were also a very diverse group of characters, and I really hope in the next book we get to dip more into their backstories. I’m also intrigued to see the fates of everyone else mentioned. The ending wove in plenty of new subplots which I’m sure will expand the world and perhaps even add in a few more POVs to the story.
All in all - FLAME IN THE MIST was a nice read. While I’m not thirsting for the next book, I’m definitely hooked enough to pick it up. I’m also very much in love with this cover! It's gorgeous!
What were you’re thoughts on this book?