Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
“The only power any man has over you is the power you give him.”
Flame in the Mist was supposed to be a Mulan retelling, right? After finishing I have decided it to be more of a inspired by type of story. Mariko is off to an arranged marriage when her transport is attacked. In an attempt to retain her family honor and find out who was behind the attack she makes a resolve to infiltrate the Black Clan. The bandits she believes responsible for the attempt on her life.
The world building was fantastic. When I first noticed that it would be a Japanese version rather than Chinese my interest peaked and was never let down. First off, lets just point out that a majority of the book was set in the Jukai Forest, AKA Aokigahara.
This forest is incredibly lush and dense, naturally giving off an eerie vibe. This is a forest that is infamous for death, from ubasute a cruel form of killing off an elderly by abandoning them lost in the forest, to being noted as the perfect place to die by Wataru Tsurumi, author of The Complete Suicide Manual. Just at the mention of the Sea of Trees gives me the chills (despite Japan’s efforts to deter the dark imagery surrounding the forest). Even if you didn’t already know the background of the forest, you should be given the hint by the reaction of the Samurai escorting Mariko. Their thoughts are clearly that only evil lurks in the forest. I loved the addition of yōkai spirits and jubokko trees. All these little bits of Japanese folklore really make me anxious for what haunts the setting.
Mariko was exactly what I expected. Here was a privileged girl who wanted to be seen as more than surface value.
“Her tears stained the front of her kimono silk. She refused to die like an animal locked in a cage. Like a girl with nothing save her name.”
Throughout the story there was never a moment when she was suddenly a superior warrior by any means. Even her intelligence and wit was met evenly. It’s only realistic that no matter how determined she was to evolve her mind that she would still have some limitations due to her limitation on just life experiences. The part that makes Mariko was her determination, her resolve, and her courage.
“And in doing so, she’d displayed one of the seven virtues of Bushidō:
The way of the warrior.”
I loved Ōkami. From the moment we meet him I couldn’t get past comparing him to the fox (I know not a wolf) yōkai, Tomoe, in the anime/manga Kamisama Hajimemashita. The handsome but broody and sly personality played very well with the sense of loyalty that he had towards Ranmaru. He was also the perfect type to keep Mariko on her toes and not get too comfortable.
The romance was very sweet and was woven nicely into the story. Though it was an element that was important to the story it did help the characters come to make decisions that affected their situations. After a while of just dancing around the subject, the romance certainly came on a bit strong out of nowhere.
All in all, I was very happy with the book and cannot wait to see what the next one has to offer. Renee Ahdieh has a way of ensnaring my interest easily without over complicating a story. And of course, with Japanese inspiration I am almost always hooked.