Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling, Samurai
So, let's get down to business.
To defeat the Huns
“In the beginnning, there were two suns and two moons.”
In the feudal empire of Wa, a land humming legends of samurai and mythical demons hunting the woods, a woman's place is to obey her father, and later her husband, with no control over her future. Hattori Mariko, though, disagrees. Her curiosity is never satisfied and she questions, studies and learns, earning the reproach of her family, who, in an attempt to gain political favor, offers her as the bride of the emperor's son, trading her like merchandise. The old gods though have different plans, and when her convoy is attacked by the infamous Black Clan, a band of thieves and mercenaries, Mariko decides to pose as a boy and infiltrate their ranks, in order to discover who paid them to murder her before she destroys them, while her twin brother is frantically searching for her. What Mariko doesn't expect is the kinship she feels towards the Black Clan, their cunning yer straightforward leader and his best friend, the Wolf with the many secrets and the layers of indiferrence to cover them. Torn between her duty to her family and her loyalty to her new home, Mariko soon realizes that there are greater forces in play, and somehow an odd girl is in the middle of the storm.
“Rise from the ashes. And take your righteous place.”
As you can tell, Flame in the Mist is a Mulan retelling, and since Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies, not reading it was not an option. Renee Ahdieh with her unparalleled talent wove intricately the empire of Wa, its lores and traditions inspired by medieval Japan, and her descriptions brought the pages to life; you experienced every smell and sound, you wanted to relish every dish and wear colourful kimonos, wield a katana and fight alongside black-clad boys thirsty for revenge and justice. The writing was lyrical, provoking a sweet melancholy that settled in your bones. The depiction of the code of honor and morals, and the struggle to abide by them were tangible. But, as discrepant as it may sound, there was something missing. Perhaps that restless and insatiable feeling is connected with the repetition of phrases and inner monologues. Perhaps it had to do with the characters, and the nagging thought that they needed more development. But the truth is that Flame in the Mist, while it ignited a spark of magic, it didn't engulf me in flames.
“Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain. And you can do anything.”
Mariko was a bit bland character. I admired her determination to matter, to survive and prove her value, but such determination could be tedious at times. She was smart and resourceful, but her lapses of judgement could turn fatal, and cause tragedies. I was more invested in the stories of the secondary characters, their ties to the fallen samurai and their plans to unravel their enemies, but I wanted something more. More time inside their head. More information about their past, and the betrayals that marked them. As for the romance?
To be honest, I rooted for a different love interest and that's the main reason it took me some time to digest the blooming relationship between Mariko and a certain character. There was poetry in their interactions, though, and bittersweet longing coated in lies and deceipt, and it eventually managed to warm my heart.
“The entire time she'd watched him - waited for him to join her, even in death - her features had remained serene. A flame in the mist.”
Why 3.5 stars, then?
I did enjoy the book. It was beautiful, and the plot managed to captivate me until the final page, and the last chapters with their explosive twists fueled my hunger, my need to know what happens next. The way I see it, I possibly had very high expectations because I am familiar with the work of Renee Ahdieh, and while I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't blown away either.