Wow. I was really impressed with Flame in the Mist. Ahdieh definitely took it to the next level. Mariko, the daughter of a wealthy samurai, is promised to an Imperial Prince. But her convoy is attacked on the way there, leaving her the sole survivor. Believing that a group of mercenaries called the Black Clan is responsible, she decides to infiltrate the Black Clan by pretending to be a boy – Mulan-style! Compared to The Wrath & the Dawn duology, I think this novel is even more action-packed! It also feels somewhat darker and gorier than her previous writing. But it is seriously a blast to read!
World-Building & Pacing
At first, it took a little effort to catch on to all the new names and Japanese terms, but this is to be expected of the first book in most series. But I was quick to adjust, and the glossary in the back is helpful. Once you really get into it, the world-building/setting is truly terrific! Ahdieh’s prose immerses the reader in Mariko’s world. Everything is described in a lush, decadent, atmospheric manner. Jukai forest, the teahouse in Hanami, and Heian Castle all come alive through the beautiful writing. The pacing also felt faster than Ahdieh’s previous books, and I really enjoyed all the samurai action! And the twists near the end were awesome!
The Characters & Romance
I loved how complex the characters are. As the main characters, Mariko and Okami are great together. Okami is mysterious and tough, and Mariko is cunning.
“Okami’s eyes remained constant. A sky without stars.”
The romance in Flame in the Mist is definitely NOT insta-love. The two essentially hate each other at first, and they are just sooo reluctant to admit their feelings. Even after they admit their feelings, they stubbornly try to keep each other at a distance. And they are hilarious! I also really liked the fact that the romance was complicated by their identities and their ties to family and other people around them. The scenes between them do get a bit steamy at times, so I would suggest this book for the older end of the YA spectrum. But I loved the part where Okami bickers with Mariko about women and how love “looks like magic” – while she’s pretending to be a boy.
Even the side characters have a good amount of depth to them. The scene where Mariko observes the poor family in the Hattori province is so touching. The people aren’t even named, but I really feel for them. The other members of the Black Clan are great, too. I love Yoshi’s character, and I really appreciate how Ahdieh portrays his wooden limb:
“His wooden limb did not hamper him. Nor did it grant him any advantage, in that heedless way of stories. It was not a gift, nor was it a blessing. It simply was. Just as he simply was.”
Ahdieh doesn’t paint him as a super-crip or anything, and I think that’s refreshing. That’s simply how he is, and, honestly, I forgot about his leg for most of the book.
I’m so glad I waited until now to read Flame in the Mist, because I need the next book now! If I’d read it a year ago, I’d have been dying for the sequel. Thankfully, it comes out tomorrow (June 05)! I’m eager for more magic, more twists, and more of the “bad guys” in the sequel. I also hope more will be revealed about Okami’s powers and the other “beast.” Overall, this is definitely a spine that shines, and I can’t wait to get a copy of Smoke in the Sun!