17 April, 2017

{ARC Review} Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Flame in the Mist, book 1
Publishes May 16, 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
e-ARC provided by Netgalley
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.

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My Review

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Look. If you've read and loved Ahdieh's debut series, I'm preeeeetty sure that you're going to love this one, too. Because despite being something utterly different, this has Renée Ahdieh all over it, from her prose, to her characters, and basically everything else. Which, y'know, would make sense, considering she wrote it and all, but you get what I mean.

I really did like this book. I'm still a bit over the moon over having experienced this novel so soon after I met her. (She's super duper sweet, by the way!) It was both not what I expected, yet everything I wanted and it left me both anguished upon finishing it, yet somehow content. It's weird. Not the book, just me, because the book is fantastic.

I loved Mariko. She was so different than Shazi from The Wrath & the Dawn, but she was no less likable. She isn't a naturally brave character because she relies on her mind more than anything else. Mariko is absolutely brilliant and her voice is superb. Often times when a book is written in third person point of view and features various characters, I always end up liking one more than the others. Mariko's was definitely my favourite, not just because it's where all of the action and danger occurred, but also because her character alone made me feel more connected with her. 

She does a lot of dangerous things in the book and it made for a very exciting story. She was originally being sent off to be wed to a prince, but her convoy was attacked near the forest. Instead of going back home, she dressed up as a boy and made up a plan to get close to the group, known as the Black Clan, that did this--to infiltrate them--so she can figure out why. She definitely has to prove herself and it was both admirable and amazing how she went about it.

I loved reading about the Black Clan! There were several members and while all of them sort of antagonised her when she was captured, she slowly begins to see what they do just as they slowly begin to trust her. In fact, there's a nice camaraderie that develops between her and two of the members!

Gah. The romance. I liked it? A lot? But I also didn't? I mean, LOOK. I loved Ahdieh's romances--this one isn't an exception because WOW. But something about it just felt weird to me. It was still swoony and amazing as the one she wrote between Shazi and Khalid, and I loved how they bickered and tested each other constantly. It's just, the way that finally initiated the ship bothered me. It just seemed kind of out of place? Otherwise, wooooooooooow. I may or may not have read some of the scenes several times because swoon. It's definitely a hate-to-love and what's not to like about that?

I also wanna mention Kenshin, Mariko's twin brother. Though you don't see them interacting together for most of the book, considering he's tracking her and she's infiltrating a dangerous group, there's still a strong connection, and my god, if it didn't break my heart, I don't know what did. Kenshin downright refused to believe his sister was dead and he did every single thing he could to find her and bring her back to safety. I doubt there were any lines he wouldn't have crossed to find her. It was so great to see that, yet heartbreaking because their goals were so different.

Needless to say, Ahdieh's writing is impeccable. From her characters, to the dialogue, to the world, and even the food, everything was beautiful and amazing. I found it to be well researched and extremely developed. Books with amazing prose usually do lag a bit, and there were a few instances here, but she always brings you back and keeps things moving and interesting. She's masterful at creating urgency in her scenes, so much that I found myself itching to find out what was next.

I find it amazing how she writes her dialogue. I won't lie, most of the time, when the leader of the Black Clan was talking, I just found it very amazing someone could talk like that--not pretentious or anything, just really, really, er, wise? I suppose. Had it been any other author trying to attempt, I probably would have laughed or cringed or both. But Ahdieh made it work, though there were a few times I did find it weird. Me thing, though. Feel free to disregard.

While I personally loved this, and definitely did get certain Mulan vibes, I can't say I really think of it as a retelling? It's not a bad thing, per se, but it's just... I think of Flame in the Mist as something that adopts elements from the story of Mulan and to call it a retelling isn't entirely accurate. 

So! Overall, I'm giving this 4 stars--I'd initially given it 5 but I've had time to mull it over. I still adore the book to pieces and I hope you guys like it too!

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