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Book Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

“But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward. Mariko was the daughter of a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai. But more than that, she still held power over her decisions. For at least this one last day. She would face her enemy. And die with honor.”

flameinthemistI did not want this book to end! From the first pages we are emerged into an honor-driven but brutal world of feudal Japan, and with it are minds are tied into the life and survival of Mariko, our heroine. On her journey from home to her arranged marriage, Mariko’s litter pauses briefly to warn of the dangers of going through the forest (the infamous Sea of Trees, Aokigahara), but they press onward and are ambushed by the Black Clan. Everyone is slaughtered except for Mariko, who only survives as her handmaiden covers her with her own body, and Mariko escapes the litter (the box she is transported in) while it is burning and makes her way deep into the forest, shedding her enflamed clothing and attracting the attention of one of the clansmen. She outsmarts him, and takes his knife, cuts off her hair, and starts to plan her revenge as she learns that the Black Clan was hired to kill her.

While the story has drawn inspiration from Mulan, which was set in China, this story also draws comparisons to 47 Ronin and other tales. I enjoyed the use of description in building the sense of place in Japan, though I did wonder at times if it was visually descriptive enough for those who are not at all familiar with the architecture and cultural references used within. For me, it was just the right amount of description to go along with a well paced plot and arc. It seemed overall well-researched, though I did wonder about the use of the Sea of Trees which seems to be popping up in a lot of movies recently so was a little trendy for my taste, but did make me consider how the forest was during that time period versus the modern reports on the forest.

Mariko is officially one of my favorite heroines, not only for her bravery, intuition, and cunning, but also for her missteps, empowerment, and self-awareness. Ahdieh did a wonderful job of making her weigh her choices and evaluate her feelings in her decision making, however imperfect some people may see that as. She was humanized and engaged and full of spirit. The book was packed with action and bloodshed, but also romance and coming-of-age themes. If you were a fan of The Wrath & The Dawn, Ahdieh’s The Flame in the Mist will be a perfect fit and offer a whole new dense, atmospheric setting to immerse yourself in. Highly recommend this book for those seeking adventure.

The Flame in the Mist is scheduled to be released on May 16, 2017.

Thank you to First to Read (Penguin) for the opportunity to read this book in advance! I can’t wait until my pre-order arrives so I can read it all over again. I give it all the stars and thumbs up that it deserves, and look forward to the second book in the series.

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Blurb:

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.

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