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‘Flame in the Mist,’ very little fantasy, very much instalove

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‘Flame in the Mist,’ very little fantasy, very much instaloveFlame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)
three-starsWritten by Renee Ahdieh
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Published on May 16th 2017
Pages: 393

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.

A Mulan-inspired book written by a woman of colour? Flame in the Mist was an instant read for me!

Okay, I will have to be honest: from the way everyone was talking about Flame in the Mist on social media, I was let to believe the story would have way more fantasy elements than it actually did. Not that there is no fantasy to Flame in the Mist, because they are. But, I don’t know, I went into the book with ideas of element-bending and animal shape-shifting. And, let me tell you, it was quite the disappointment when I finally understood that Flame in the Mist simply wasn’t that kind of a book.

The story follows Mariko, on her way to the imperial palace where she is meant to marry the Emperor’s son. Except things do not go as planned, her convoy is attacked, her samurais and handmaiden killed, and Mariko finds herself seeking revenge on the Black Clan. Which leads her to joining them, first to attack them from within, then as an actual member of the clan. Flame in the Mist deals with fallen heroes, family duties and undying loyalty.

Funnily enough, Flame in the Mist isn’t my first Mulan-inspired story this year, since I read Noteworthy earlier this year. But where Noteworthy was so good at dealing with the LGBT+ undertones that come with a Mulan retelling, the same ideas fall flat with Flame in the Mist. Not only doesn’t Okami develop feelings for her when Mariko presents as a boy, beside some massive anger and resentment, but it shifts to instalove literally five seconds after he discovers she was a girl all along. Which doesn’t sit well with me at all.

Maybe because I went into the book thinking it was heavy on magic, but I also felt like the story could have been so much more than it actually was. Especially when you have hints of shape-shifting all the while having a character nicknamed The Wolf. Or when you keep referencing to the elements of water and fire when describing the characters. Or when you literally have a chapter called The Phoenix while your book showcase a big, golden bird on the cover. There is so much lost potential to this story that it almost left me disappointed when I reached the last page. I don’t know if it will be used in the sequel, but it definitely should have been in this book!

Nonetheless, Flame in the Mist‘s storyline is a solid one. All the characters have compelling stories and motives, and they bounce off each other really well. I particularly liked the dynamics within the Black Clan, and how everyone has an important role to play in this small community. And the book featured two fascinating sibling dynamics, which always is a weakness of mine.

I have never read any other book by Ahdieh before, even though The Wrath and The Dawn has been on my kindle for months, but I really fell in love with her prose. The way she writes kept me coming back to the story every time I was putting the book down. (Fun story: I read Flame in the Mist all through my moving out, during too many back and forth using London’s tube, dragging heavy suitcases around.) (Would not recommend.) The writing gave a magical aspect to the story, and made it almost impossible to put it down even for five minutes. Which, let me tell you, doesn’t happen that often to me those days!

Did you read the book, what did you think?

What is you favourite fairytale retelling?

three-stars

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