Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
This book got intensively hyped up in the bookish community, and I was so very curious about a retelling of Mulan set in a fantasy Japan. I simply had to see what the fuss was about. All I have to say is – I’m addicted. Okay, that’s not all I have to say, but it does sum up my feelings pretty well. Now that I am done with Flame in the Mist, I can’t believe I didn’t read it slower, and I am so happy it’s a series.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt 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.
First of all, as you can see from the synopsis, it’s not a retelling of Mulan at all, and I am not sure why this rumor spread. Mariko is from Japan and not China, and she doesn’t go to war. The similarities end with both Mariko and Mulan disguising themselves as boys in order to fight for what they believe. In the case of Mulan, the safety of her family. For Mariko, truth and freedom.
The writing style of this book was very pleasant to read, beautiful and full of metaphors. I loved the Japanese mythology, which gave the book such a wonderfully magical and lush feeling. The plot does get slower after the first third, but it picks up pace by the last and becomes impossible to put down. I was also surprised by how this book touches on feminist issues with not so much as a moment’s hesitation.
Only small things bothered me about this novel: the “I’m not like other girls” trope, some decisions Mariko makes which are a bit senseless to me, how much we’re told she’s “smart and weird” instead of shown how smart and weird she is, the unconvincing romance. However, for me the merits of Flame in the Mist by far outweigh its flaws.
The characters were another really positive aspect – every single one of them was complex, had a backstory and were not too black-and-white. They all hide secrets. I want to know what happens to each and every one, I want to see where their choices, machinations and luck lead and I am sure I will devour the next books – I drank this first volume as if it was water.
Verdict: If you enjoy young adult fantasy, this is a must-read. The world building is wonderful and the characters are so well-crafted you’ll be immersed in the story from the very first page.