I read Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn for book club a few months back. It had some solid world building and an intriguing premise. So, when I received Flame in the Mist at the book blogger meetup, I was looking forward to seeing what Ahdieh could do with a new setting.
In Flame in the Mist, Renee Ahdieh transports readers to feudal Japan. Mariko, a prominent samurai’s daughter, is on route to the imperial city to meet her betrothed when her convoy is attacked. The assassins kill everyone and Mariko just barely escapes burning alive.
With a plan for vengeance, she sets out to find those responsible for the attack, the Black Clan. Disguised as a peasant boy, she joins their ranks. As she tries to discover who ordered her death, she finds herself drawn to the freedom the Black Clan offers. The clan, and a key member of their ranks, welcome her intellect and experiments, putting them in stark contrast with her family.
But as the secrets of the Black Clan, the imperial city, and her family intertwine, Mariko must choose which path to follow. Family and duty, or her new found freedom?
Let’s get into it…
If you’ve read Wrath and the Dawn, there are certain aspects of this new series that you’ll recognize. First and foremost, is a strong-willed female lead. Like Wrath’s Shahrzad, Mariko is a sassy and independent protagonist bent on vengeance. Both juggle familial duty with their quest and exemplify cleverness and ingenuity. They also both seem to have a penchant for bad boys.
As far as the romance goes, it’s fairly typical YA fantasy fair. There’s the initial denial of attraction and question of trust, but in this case you have the added complication of Mariko’s disguise. In that way it highlights the inner conflict of Marko’s identity. Still, I found there wasn’t a lot of basis for the relationship Mariko finds herself in. It goes a bit beyond initial attraction, but I’d like to see Ahdieh go a little deeper in the next book.
And there’s a lot to explore in the next book. I don’t know a lot about feudal Japan, but Flame in the Mist definitely makes me wish I knew more. Ahdieh includes details that make it easy to imagine the tea house, the hot spring, and the Black Clan’s forest base. Plus, there’s some cool fantasy elements that I’m looking forward to learning more about. These include Okami’s powers and the magic trees. I’m not sure if these have roots in Japanese mythology or folklore, but they certainly added an interesting layer to Ahdieh’s world building.
There’s also the mix of viewpoints. Mostly we follow Mariko and her brother, but we get a glimpse from the other characters as well. The most interesting are those from the imperial court. They hint at the hidden workings of the empire, building intrigue and adding drama to the plot. I’m interested to see how all the threads come together.
Final thoughts: There’s a lot of promise in this series. There’s death, intrigue, questions of honour and justice – basically lots to keep you reading. That said, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the cultural elements Ahdieh includes, since I am not very familiar with Japanese history.