{Review} THE FLAME IN THE MIST by Renée Ahdieh

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  IN THE BEGINNING, there were two suns and two moons.
  The boy's sight blurred before him, seeing past the truth. Past the shame. He focused on the story his uba had told him the night before. A story of good and evil, light and dark. A story where the triumphant sun rose high above its enemies.
  On instinct, his fingers reached for the calloused warmth of his uba's hand. The nursemaid from Kisun had been with him since he could remember, but now--like everything else--she was gone.
  Now there was no one left.
  Against his will, the boy's vission cleared, locking on the clear blue of the noon sky above. His fingers curled around the stiff linen of his shirtsleeves. 
  Don't look away. If they see you looking away, they will say you are weak.
  Once more, his uba's words echoed in his ears.

(pg. 17, US e-ARC edition)

“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.”


Okay, SO LISTEN. Renée Ahdieh's new novel THE FLAME IN THE MIST is a great book. A fantastic book. BUT IT IS NOT A MULAN RETELLING. And if you go into this book thinking it is? You're doing a great disservice to both the book and yourself, because you might be disappointed, and that might hinder your enjoyment of this book...and you don't want that!

I would actually go so far as to say that this book is more heavily inspired by the legends of Robin Hood than it is Mulan--and I think there's going to be a little bit of Sleeping Beauty  mixed in come the second book in the duology in 2018.

I mean, to begin with, Mulan herself was Chinese. Granted, the story can work in a Japanese setting, because samurai and all. But Mulan disguised herself as a soldier. In an army. In THE FLAME IN THE MIST, Mariko disguises herself out of necessity. When her carriage is attacked, she is the only survivor. She decides to disguise herself as a boy and infiltrate The Black Clan in order to have revenge since they attempted to kill her. TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY, RIGHT!?

I loved Ahdieh's first duology, The Wrath and the Dawn, and have been so excited for something new from her. And when they revealed that gorgeous cover!? And said it was a Mulan retelling? (Again, it's NOT!) I was whipped into a frenzy. I HAD to have it in my grubby little hands. I did the craziest happy dance when I got my hands on an ARC, and I'm so excited to pick up a finished copy this week --because it comes out TOMORROW!!!--and see this beauty in person! (I was SO tempted to wait to review this until the book released so I could do a lot of up-close detail of the cover and interior, but I felt it was more important to make sure you go into the release this week with realistic expectations about the content!)

I was expecting a LOT from this book, to be honest. And it was nothing like any of my expectations. AND IT WAS OKAY. I loved the book for what it was. To begin with, the book was much darker than I anticipated. It starts off with man committing seppuku while his young son looks on--and then getting beheaded. And this all happens by Page 3, so that's not really a spoiler. THEN when we meet our heroine Mariko for the first time, it's another bloody, disturbing scene, one where Mariko barely escapes with her life. She quickly realizes she must do the unthinkable in order to survive. Ahdieh starts this novel off with a HUGE bang. It just throws you right into the action. In this way, it brings one of my favorite books of 2016, RUINED by Amy Tintera, to mind. That book also started off at a run. The crazy punches keep coming, and readers are in for a whirlwind of a ride!

 on DVD!
Ah, memories!!!

(Here's one of the short episodeson YouTube
if you're interested in
hearing more, lol!)
One thing that really stuck with me was the atmosphere of this book. All the little nuances and descriptions brought Japan vividly to my mind's eye and made me miss my life there so much, from pagodas to cherry blossoms to tea ceremonies to the Japanese terminology, to the philosophical way of wording various expressions.....just so many things! Ahdieh even used one of my favorite Japanese expressions, 一期一会 (ichi-go ichi-e), which basically means "once in a lifetime chance." The phrase was very popular when I lived in Japan and on a lot of school supplies, etc, and even turned into a series based on the stationary! I loved the sentiment of the expression, the thought that everything only ever happens once. Even if you do the same thing every week, things don't happen exactly the same way, and it's never the same twice. It was one of my favorite expressions, and I was so excited to see it in THE FLAME IN THE MIST. There were just so many things that made me so nostalgic, and wish I could go back to Japan sooner rather than later.

Ahdieh is great at making readers care about all of her characters, even secondary ones. She's even better at making sure that you never know who to trust! Could he be telling the truth? Is he lying? Who do you trust? There are so many lies and deceit that it can be hard to know for sure. But there's also a core of truth, and the relationships Mariko begins to make make you care about everyone. Yoshi was a favorite secondary character of mine, and I loved the way he took Mariko under his wing when nobody else would. I also loved Ōkami and was always excited to see his character on the page. He has so many layers to him, and we've only started peeling them all back! And of course, I love Mariko, too. Sure, she makes some stupid decisions, but she's also smart. REALLY smart. She's an inventor, and that is so cool!! ESPECIALLY since she's living in a time when women weren't appreciated for their brains. I love so much of what she comes up with and can't wait to see what else is lying up her sleeve!

I already can't wait for the sequel to release in a year and to get more answers to all my questions and see how everything comes together!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: ( Kissing, innuendo of sex, but nothing explicitly stated )
Language: ( Whore, whoremonger, and whoreson are thrown around. Some innuendo about brothels. )
Violence: ( A man commits seppuku and then is beheaded and put on display; a carriage is ambushed and a servant's body is littered with arrows. A family is brutally murdered. A man is stabbed in the eye and murdered. A man is gutted. There are quite a few dark scenes. Not too grisly, but still able to bring a picture to mind. )
Other:  --
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

SO GORGEOUS. One of my favorite covers of 2017!!!

 I love the colors, I love the phoenix, I love the font on the title, especially the bladed curve of the F, the E, and the T.

I also love that when you glance at the cover quickly, you just see flowers, but when you look closer, you see throwing stars, which actually play a really cool role in this book!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Renée Ahdieh
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers // Penguin
Received: For Review


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE WRATH AND THE DAWN comes a sweeping, action-packed YA adventure set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan where Mulan meets Throne of Glass

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 Black Clan and track 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.