Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh

Firstly, thanks to Date a Book for this review copy <3

Date Read: May 8 - July 23 2017
Date Released: May 16th 2017
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

"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 ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known."


This review is so painful to write you don’t even understand. Imagine a child dragging their feet along the floor in utmost resistance as they enter the dentist. That’s me and this review. I mean we can review the evidence, the time between when I started reading Flame in the Mist, the time between me putting it down and finally picking it back up again, to the time between finishing and writing this review. From the beginning of May to mid-July to the end of August. Every time I think about the book I ask myself why couldn’t I like this, why it had to be this way. Then a deep disappointment fills my bones.

Call me presumptuous but I already knew I wouldn’t like this book from the very first page – how dare she just assume and not give this book a chance you may be asking? It was in the writing but we’ll delve into that later. I had a lot of problems with Mariko, the protagonist of the story. The daughter of a wealthy clan and family of samurais, she is enroute to her marriage with the emperor’s son when her envoy is attacked. Her litter is in flames and her inside it but she still can’t decide whether she wants to leave it despite her attackers already having presumed her dead. Honey, you’re more likely to survive outside that in a wooden contraption feeding the fire. And that was what frustrated me about Mariko throughout the book. All her supposed thinking/pondering that was meant to come across as strategizing. Her constant internal debates were meant to show how she had a great mind for a battle of wits but she came across as indecisive and uncertain. There were so many situations where I was screaming at her to just go – I’m sorry that I like my heroines who know when to act. Then there was her supposed wit – those moments where she says it’s more powerful to stay silent rather than retort? I found it embarrassing as this came across as her not having a proper comeback and admitting defeat when she’s adamant she’s right. I didn’t buy into her character.

The book would occasionally cut to her brother Kenshin’s point of view and while I actually liked the Dragon of Kai and the honourable qualities of his character, I just didn’t care about his perspective. I feel that the book could do without these parts and it would be fine; even better really because it would speed up the pace.

Having infiltrated the Black Clan disguised as a filthy peasant boy, Mariko spends her time trying to get to know the members and their motive to kill her. The two main guys Okami and Ranmaru immediately accept her as a boy and I found this a tad unbelievable? I mean come on, the Ouran Host Club found out Haruhi was a girl within a day and they didn’t even live with her. Mariko spends months with these guys and nobody suspects a thing? What the? I can’t say I even cared too much about Ranmaru or Okami like yeah cool bromance guys now move on with the story.

Of course there had to be romance. Honestly could have done without. I’m not sure how hate turns into love so quickly. I fully support hating someone but there’s chemistry leading to attraction, but love? It felt so forced too, hate one moment, love the next. I didn’t understand, I didn’t feel and I didn’t sense the chemistry at all. No attraction. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

The plot progressed so slowly I kind of wondered if anything was ever going to happen. Endless pages of Mariko “biding her time” and nek minnit days or weeks have passed. This book isn’t a slow read by any means, the physical turning of the pages can happen quickly, but it’s just nothing seems to move? The writing itself is easy enough to read but it felt so distant and simplistic. I was craving the lush, lyrical style that Ahdieh graced me with in The Wrath and the Dawn and I got the complete opposite. As soon as I read the first page, my heart plummeted as I’d set my hopes up for the writing style I had fallen in love with. Don’t get me wrong, the writing isn’t bad, Ahdieh is a good writer but Flame in the Mist wasn’t a style to my liking.

In terms of the world-building I feel like this incorporated every trope-y, stereotypical Japanese element stuffed into one book. Samurai, geisha, teahouses, ninjas, THROWING STARS. I’m not Japanese though so I don’t have a right to comment on these aspects. My Japanese friend did look at the writing and at parts like “Ranmaru ronin” go “what a weeb” LOL.

And coming to the end of this review I’ve made this book sound so much worse than it really is. I think I’m still feeling the disappointment because I love The Wrath and the Dawn duology so much and I had such exceptionally high hopes for Flame in the Mist. This book just wasn't for me.

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