Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Flame in the Mist is the newest book by Renee Ahdieh, and considering how much I love her Wrath and the Dawn duology, it’s safe to say that there were expectation. And not all of them were met.
This is a historical/alternate universe novel, you could say, in a setting of Japanese culture and folklore (yes, it totally has samurai). The protagonist, Mariko, has been betrothed to a prince by her father. On her way to the palace, her convoy is attacked and she barely manages to escape with her life. Now she wants to find out who hired the bandits to kill her and why. She dresses as a peasant boy and infiltrates the deadly, and feared, Black Clan.
And she does all this very easily despite the fact that she has no survival skills, can’t fight, and has no way to navigate the forest, which is supposed to be a place that even soldiers don’t enter because it’s dangerous and impossible to navigate.
Some might argue that it’s because Mariko is very smart but come on, at least show us some of her difficult journey. It might have made things interesting since the pace of the novel could have used some work. For the first half, it almost felt like nothing happened. Honestly, I got in a bit of a rut halfway and when I picked the book back up a day later, there were only two things of note that came to mind. Which is not a good thing.
Afterwards, there was some more not-much-happening but it was tempered with the romance aspect coming into play, so it wasn’t bad. I liked the romance.
The main events of the book, when things really got interesting, were in the last quarter. But that felt hurried, which could be due to the rest of the novel being slow. But, it was still very good. The events of the last 25% were twice as significant as the rest of the book. Seriously, everything happened then. From the main plot movements to the character development and the villain’s intro. If that last part could have been stretched (in a good way) to enclose a larger part of the novel, the pace would have been evened out.
And then we had the little plot device of a reason for Mariko to infiltrate the Black Clan. I mean, what smart character decides that the best course of action after narrowly escaping death is to go in half cocked and shack up with the people who tried to kill her? Sure, she wanted to know why someone wanted her dead, but that excuse only worked for 50-100 pages, at best. Afterwards, it started to lose meaning (that happens when you keep saying something over and over again) and became insufficient, made worse by the (poorly done) revelation near the end.
But you know what, I’m being harsh. There were many redeemable qualities to be found in the novel. For one, it’s beautifully written and explores Japanese culture very well. All the characters we were introduced to were interesting and ones you could easily become invested in. Character development was good, as was the world building. And the ending was great.
Overall, while first installment wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, it set up the rest of the series well. I think the upcoming books will be better and I do think you should give this one a shot. Renee Ahdieh is a good author.