Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Flame in the Mist - Renée Ahdieh

Summary:  The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she'd been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Nevermind 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.  (Summary from book sleeve - Image from Amazon.com)

My Review:  Flame in the Mist is a historical fantasy set in feudal Japan and is the first book in a new duology by Renée Ahdieh.  If her name sounds familiar, that's because she also wrote another duology - The Wrath and the Dawn and its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger which I reviewed back in December 2019 and January 2020.  In this book, a young girl named Mariko is on her way to meet her intended, but disaster strikes as her group is set upon by assassins.  She barely survives and is left stranded, so she assumes the disguise of a boy and vows to track down those responsible for the deaths of her companions.  When she falls in with the men she thinks are to blame, Mariko must infiltrate their group to accomplish her goals.  It's in the midst of their world, one so different from any she has known, that Mariko begins to realize her true potential. 

Okay, so if you're thinking that sounds a wee bit familiar, you're not wrong.  Flame shares some basic similarities with Disney's Mulan, but past the whole cross-dressing-and-learning-her-worth-surrounded-by-a-bunch-of-men component, the stories diverge quite a bit, so I didn't feel like I was reading something I'd already read before.  Rather it felt like a slightly familiar story that was given new life.

When you read two series, one after another, by the same author, it's hard not to make comparisons. So, I'm just going to go ahead and make them.  Flame in the Mist is not deeply set or as as richly detailed as The Wrath & the Dawn duology, nor do the characters come to life quite so fully in my head.  In fact, the difference was so dramatic, that it almost feels like a different person wrote them, if it weren't for the names on the front cover.  I found that I missed Ms. Ahdieh's older style.

I wasn't completely riveted by Mariko's story, but I did enjoy reading it this book.  It was a fast, undemanding, escapist read, and an interesting trip into another history and culture.  There was also a mysterious, magical undercurrent throughout the book, a dash (or two) of romance, and enough of a twist/cliffhanger towards the end that I am inclined to pick up the next book if it's not too hard to come by.  And oh, would you look at that! Smoke in the Sun is sitting right here next to me! How fortuitous.

UPDATE:  I made it about 50 or so pages in to Smoke in the Sun before I decided there were other things I'd rather be reading.  It delved deeper into the fantasy aspect that was hinted at in the first book, and I found I didn't really like where it was going.  Since I didn't make it very far, I don't really feel like I can give it a rating and this is as much of a review that you're going to get.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some making out and vaguely implied sex, but not described or graphic.

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