Flame In The Mist by Renée Ahdieh

The Blurb On The Back:

She’s barely seventeen, but Hattori Mariko knows her place in life.

She’s been raised for one purpose: to marry the son of the Emperor’s favourite concubine.

But en route to the wedding her litter is ambushed by the Black Clan. Now Mariko has two choices: she can wait to be rescued … or face her enemies.

She’s done waiting. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

17-year-old Hattori Mariko does not fit her parents’ view of the perfect daughter: intellectually curious, she’s more interested in making inventions than in being a quiet, dutiful girl who does what she’s told. When her parents arrange her marriage to Raiden, the son of the Wa Emperor’s favourite concubine, she has no choice but to agree but as her procession travels through the Jukai forest they are ambushed by the Black Clan who murder her samurai guards and retainers and try to kill her. Unable to return home for fear that the Emperor will see the ambush as an ill omen and cancel the wedding thus bringing shame to her family, she instead disguises herself as a boy and decides to infiltrate the Clan to find out why they want her dead.

But as she gets closer to the Clan’s leader, Ranmaru and his enigmatic best friend Ōkami, she begins to question whether they were really behind it – especially as she finds herself attracted to Ōkami …

Renée Ahdieh’s young adult fantasy novel (the first in a duology) uses feudal Japan as the basis for some interesting world building but the prose was too purple for my tastes and there’s a lot of set-up here and not a huge amount of actual plot plus although the romance between Mariko and Ōkami is at least earned, I wasn’t that invested in seeing how it turns out, which means I’m not sure whether I’d read the sequel.

Mariko has a lot of potential as the main character – I liked her intellectual curiosity and the way she adapts that knowledge to practical effect (even though it’s there purely to provide plot points) but she spends a lot of time unsuccessfully trying to hide her emotions and asking questions that are never answered (which I found irritating) and her “investigation” into how Black Clan were involved in her ambush doesn’t really go anywhere. There is a reasonable emotional basis to her developing relationship with Ōkami but he is little more than a mysterious man with hidden demons and Ranmaru doesn’t get much development at all.

The main problem though is that the book is pretty much all set-up and no plot with the action bouncing between Mariko and the Black Clan, Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin’s efforts to find her and vague political shenanigans at the imperial palace between the Emperor, his wife and his favourite concubine. There’s a lot of potential in those scenarios but Ahdieh tends to over-write (emotions in particular are given flowery similes) given that the central thrust of the story seems to be about Mariko and Ōkami’s inevitable romance (which is not something I’m usually interested in reading) I’m not sure that I’m invested enough to read the sequel.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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