In terms of world-building, plot, and characters, this book was on fire.
Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh follows Mariko, the daughter of a wealthy samurai, as she travels to meet the emporer’s son who she will marry. On the way, Mariko’s convoy is attacked, but she manages to escape in the woods where she plans her revenge. Mariko poses as a boy to infiltrate Black Clan and discover why they wanted her dead. As a boy, Mariko finally is treated with respect, however her identity is compromised when she falls in love.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I read The Wrath and The Dawn (see my review here) by Renée Ahdieh and while I was impressed with her writing and world-building, I wasn’t really invested in the story line. For this book, I heard more mixed reviews that for her first duology and was unsure if I would like this book since it falls in a genre that I don’t typically read. However, I really liked the idea of this book, especially since it was pitched as a Mulan-like story which I love. I’m happy to say that I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down while I was reading.
Like with The Wrath and The Dawn, the author does a great job of world-building. The culture, the setting, and the characters are described so vividly that I could picture the story in my head. As someone who primarily reads contemporary where world-building isn’t really necessary, it was nice to have so many descriptions to understand the story better. I also really appreciated how the author easily incorporated the values of the culture which helped me better understand the characters’ motivations and actions throughout the story.
I also really enjoyed the main character, Mariko. In The Wrath and The Dawn, one of my biggest problems with the main character is while she came into the story with a mission to carry out, she almost immediately lost all of her focus and built up anger after a few interactions with the love interest. In The Flame of the Mist, Mariko is similar Shahrzad because she challenges female ideals for her culture and possesses the same drive determination. However, I think Mariko sticks more to her original goal and grows more as a character throughout the novel.
While I wasn’t disappointed with this aspect of the book, I think some readers may be a little disappointed that this book isn’t an exact retelling of Mulan. However, it does contain a lot of elements from that story: a girl disguised a guy who challenges ideas about women in her culture. I think if you like story with this idea coupled with a diverse cast of characters, then you won’t be able to put this book down. I give Flame in the Mist four out of five stars.