This book was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and frankly, I was left a little disappointed by it.
The book wasn’t bad. It was a pretty solid read, actually. I just expected more.
A few years ago I read Ahdieh’s The Wrath & The Dawn, and I loved it. I flew through that novel in one sitting and gave it five brilliant stars. Then I read the sequel, The Rose & The Dagger, and I was left utterly unimpressed. I felt that it was lacking all the things I had come to expect from Ahdieh. I think that’s what happened with Flame in the Mist.
When I heard that this was going to be a Mulan retelling I was super excited. I love Mulan. She’s one of my favorite Disney princesses, and I’ve seen her movie too many times to count. This though was not at all like Mulan.
“Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain.”
– The Flame in The Mist by Reneé Ahdieh
Well, nothing like Mulan save for that quote above.
Sure, it has a girl dressed like a guy and a romantic lead that falls for her, much like Shang, way before realizing that she was female. It also takes place in Asia (Japan this time, not China). And, I guess that’s about all I got.
And there is nothing wrong with that!
This book does not have to be like Disney’s Mulan! That’s not the problem. The problem is that was instead of a kickass warrior I came to expect, a fearless heroine who goes to war for the selfless reason of saving her father, we got whiny, holier than thou, little Mariko.
Mariko, whose great intelligence is way more tell than show, and who acts like she’s somehow above it all.
Seriously, the girl is praised here and there for being oh, so smart, and yet, I was unimpressed by her intelligence. Sure she’s smart, but she’s also kind of stupid.
She does a lot of illogical, completely irrational things. And it’s not just once or twice, but all the gosh darn time! Things that anyone with common sense would think twice about! Even her initial plan, the thing that kick starts the plot, which is to infiltrate the enemy to find out who wants her dead, is kind of stupid. So many things could have been avoided if she’d not done that. It’s not like there weren’t simpler ways of getting it done.
The main reason she dresses as a man to infiltrate the Black Clan is that she doesn’t want to dishonor her family. She doesn’t want people to question if she lost her virtue after being attacked and spending a couple hours alone in the woods. So, what does our brilliant, smarter, more logical than anyone else heroine do? She goes deeper into the woods and spends weeks alone with a group of men because obviously, no one would question her virtue after that.
The romance was also not to my liking. I feel like Ahdieh tried to make it look like it was slow burning, but it really wasn’t. And I know that the one between Khalid and Shazi wasn’t either in TW&TD but this one just seemed worse. It seemed more rushed and out of place. At least Khalid and Shazi had some nice moments. Mariko and Ōkami only argued and glared at each other, and then suddenly they are making out.
Then there was the magic. How does it work? What’s the context? No one knows, but everyone just kinda quietly accepts it so I guess it’s ok. Right?
And the Black Clan. What was it’s purpose? How long have they been around? Everyone fears them and think they are evil but we never see them do anything truly villainous. And were they just established by 18-20-year-old Ranmaru? That mean’s they couldn’t have been around for that long. And yet, everyone speaks of them as though they are legendary?
I have so many questions!
Anyway, I gave this three stars so obviously, I liked some stuff in it, despite all that you just read. Although, now that I think about it, I had a lot more problems with it than I originally thought. But, moving on!
I liked the feminist message in the story, and how Ōkami (the love interest) was all for it, constantly defending Mariko’s right to make her own choices.
Seriously, the book is filled with quotes like:
“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”
“I will not be bandied about by men any longer. I am not a prize to be bought or sold.”
I also like that Mariko wasn’t a virgin, as strange as that sounds. All these YA heroines are sweet little virgins, ready to give it up to their one true love (another annoying teenager that she’s known for a max period of three months and already knows is going to love 4evah!). Then they have a cheesy love scene talking about how they were joined and how their souls mixed or something.
Not that that’s wrong I suppose. It’s just so cliche, and so unrealistic. Mariko wasn’t about that, and I loved it.
Also the fact that it was in Japan! I love feudal Japan! I want more stories set there. I also want more Asian characters and stories in YA fantasy. There is so much mythology to take from, so many magical settings that we can explore. I want to see more of it. And not just see it from the POV of some white guy/girl who is somehow the chosen one in some Asian prophesy or something. It’s happened before and I am sick of it!
Anyway, I liked it, I guess. It was entertaining so I suppose I will be reading the sequel. I just hope I can get more into it than I did this one.
If you’ve read it, tell me what you think!
Check out our 2017 Reading Challenge