Title: Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: May 16, 2017
*I received this ARC through Penguin First to Read. A big thank you to them for this opportunity. All thoughts are from yours truly. Any quotes that are used are subject to change by the time the book is released.*
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
This was a major disappointment for me. This has been hyped up for months prior to its release and people seem to love this author. But for me, this was vastly underdeveloped and felt like a chore to finish.
Plot: The plot started out with an interesting prologue that shows a man committing sepukku (honorable suicide) and the son watches. This moment captured the common act that happened in feudal Japan and really brought the atmosphere. Then, the first chapter felt a tiny bit like The Girl of Fire and Thorns, with the MC getting married to a man of another country and their caravan are attacked on the way. That offered a bit of mystery of how the plot would unfold. But like my previous read The Thief, this book tanked quickly after the beginning.
Mariko escapes this burning caravan and flees into the woods nearby to escape any remaining attackers. She’s afraid and bleeding and her “flight” action felt understandable and realistic. But then, she does something that felt like the author was forcing her to be one of those “I’m gonna have no remorse and have no plan/strategy as I seek the answers and hence giving the story a plot” type character. She’s portrayed as a girl who makes little inventions and uses her smarts, which was a good start. But once the author makes this decision to have her be a “badass” girl who doesn’t care what consequences will come of her actions made me immediately not care of what happened to her.
The author also missed some major opportunities for great character development and world building that involved the little fantasy elements. There’s a summary of her escaping the forest in the beginning and now she’s in the village and onto the next phase of the book. That survival element would’ve the best chance to show the reader what kind of inventions and skills Mariko has. Give us moments where she has to fight off beasts, find food and water, etc. That could give more deeper insight to her character and help care more about her. Also the fantasy elements (these “night beasts” and “blood draining trees”) were only used twice in passing…and that’s it. If you’re going to write a fantasy novel, make those elements important to the story and distinguish your world from other novels out there. With how much fantasy I read and analyze, the world building and fantasy elements were extremely underused. If you took these things out, it would be a true historical fiction, which it read like anyway.
Characters: With this being a Japanese setting, Mariko didn’t feel like she reflected that culture whatsoever. From what I’ve seen, watched and read, the Japanese people respect their elders and ancestors. They value respect and honor very highly and you do not show disrespect. Especially in this past era, where you could be punished for showing disrespect to your elders and people of authority. Mariko does this repeatedly and is NEVER punished or reprimanded for this. She’s arrogant, borderline sexist and doesn’t seem to love her culture and country. She didn’t reflect the culture of the novel. She gets practically everything she wants and never faces real danger for her actions. That’s a big pet peeve in books for me and one I’m tired of seeing. (see Writing section)
However, her brother Kenshin truly reflects the mentality and discipline of a samurai. He values honor and does not give room for allowing failure. He’s tasked with finding his sister and has a few great moments where he shows that tough samurai mentality which was nice to read for a change. I wish he had been more a central character than Mariko.
Writing: I don’t think that Renee Ahdieh is an author for me. I felt like her writing style was very amateurish with telling you way too much of the story and didn’t let the reader figure out what was going on. It also got repetitive with Mariko thinking the same things. I’m very writing style oriented, with being an English Major and Technical Writing minor, and her writing made me want to DNF this book more than once. It also felt like she couldn’t make up her mind about small details.
For example, Mariko is a snob in her mind towards men. She abhors their behavior, thinks they’re all barbaric and untrustworthy. She degrades them many times in her personal thoughts. But then you get this passage:
“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.”
But you also get a part in the very beginning of the book where she challenges/mouths off an elder of hers who helps escort her to the destination for the political marriage.
“Then it is an easy choice. We must lead so that others may follow, Nobutada-sama. You taught me that, even as a young girl.” Mariko did not look away as she spoke. Nor did she attempt to apologize for the sharpness of her retort.
His scowl deepened. Mariko smothered a sigh. She knew she was being difficult. Knew Nobutada wished for her to make a decision. At the very least, wished for her to offer an opinion.
To make a useless play at control. A play Nobutada could then smugly subvert, as her elder.
As a man.
Try as she might, Mariko could not help the resentment simmering beneath the surface.”
To me, it sounds like she’s not happy to be a woman. I think she feels jealous for the power that men have, so she uses her attitude to show that behavior. This felt like a contradiction that got overlooked, but felt very apparent while reading it.
Final Thoughts: If you saw the asterisk, next to my rating of this book, I will say this. If you love her debut duology, you might like this. If you don’t care much about the writing style and read more for entertainment, that’s totally cool. I can’t help my editor/English major eye with anything that I read. But I personally wouldn’t spend full price on this book. Mariko read way too much of Shazi to me, with their recklessness and the convenient plots. I would borrow this from your library to see if you actually like it. This was another case where the hype burned this to the ground.
If you get the chance to read this book, let me know what you think. I may sound harsh at times in my reviews, but we all have our moods where we need to be honest of how we feel 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend guys!