Monday, May 1, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Summary from Goodreads:
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 was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. I absolutely adored Ahdieh’s other series.  And when I received an ARC for review, I screeched in fangirl joy. I put aside other books I was in the middle of (including library books that needed to go back) and went into this with high expectations.
Maybe my expectations were too high…If you were to ask me two weeks ago what book I thought I’d be more interested in: this one or the audio book I was listening to (of a book that came out a couple years ago), I would have said, hands down, this one. Unfortunately, I fell in love with my audio book, and Flame in the Mist felt like a reunion with an old crush that makes you go, “what did I see in that guy?”
It wasn’t terrible. I didn’t hate it. I just wanted to be more invested. I wanted to love it. It kind of felt like a lot of other YA out there and I wanted the same level of captivation that I got from The Wrath and the Dawn, which stood out from everything else I was reading at the time. This story was too familiar. The main character is on her way to an arranged marriage, but her whole “caravan” is attacked and she is presumed dead. Instead of dead, she’s pissed, and goes on a revenge mission. This mission involves infiltrating the gang of Samurai warriors she believes were sent to kill her. She disguises as a boy, earns their trust, and believes she’s on the road to answers, when her brother (the tracker/Samurai warrior in his own right) finds her and everything becomes complicated.
I love revenge stories. I also love stories where the female character dresses as a man. I loved Mulan and this book has so many little nods to that film (despite this book being in Japan and Mulan being from China). That being said, for a revenge story to work, I need to believe in the main character’s motivation for such a feet. And well, I never really felt like Mariko had a good enough reason. Sure, her guard was murdered. But, did she even know them? She was not interested in the man she was destined to marry. And I get loving the freedom of dressing as a man and escaping the marriage. But…why such a revenge thing? I just didn’t get it.
Also, I loved the character, Mulan. I felt like I only sometimes tolerated Mariko. Mulan did what she did to save her father and protect her family. I’m not clear why Mariko did all that she did. It wasn’t for her family. And while it was clear that Mulan was smart and not like the women her matchmaker wanted her to be like, this wasn’t her sole character trate. Mariko didn’t have a lot going for her, besides her intelligence that every, single character noticed. And maybe this wouldn’t have bothered me so much if not for the fact that I never saw her actually act intelligently.
Mariko makes a lot mistakes. Yes, she uses logical thinking to solve problems. But, none of her actions made her stand out as this super intelligent character that every side character commented on her to be. This kind of reminded me of Throne of Glass, when the author kept mentioning how tough the main character was, but I never got to see it…Later in the series, I certainly saw it. But, this bothered me. I hate when authors talk about something, but then they don’t show it. It makes me question everything. What else am I not being shown? And it takes me out of the story.
I wish I wasn’t taken out of the story like I was because the story was good. Ahdieh has a clear talent. Some of the suspense was spectacular. And the romance was actually my favorite part. It was sizzling off the page. I know when I read a book by this author that the love story will be awesome. I just wish I liked the main character more than I did. I wish Mariko had a stronger reason for her revenge. And I wish she acted like the intelligent character everyone seemed to think she was. This book was not as good as I was hoping it to be. Maybe my expectations were just too high. I give it a 7/10.

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