The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.
When my friend Dayla received two ARCs of Flame in the Mist, I made sure to claim the spare before anyone else could. I adore Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn duology, so when I heard that she had a book about feudal Japan in the works, I simply could not wait. That said, I did take a bit long to truly get into the story. If you look at my Goodreads, you’ll see that it took me eleven days to read it. That’s rather long, for me. I was busy with school, and work, and moving into my new place, but it still took me longer that I would have liked. I just wasn’t pulled into the story until maybe halfway through.
I did love Mariko, though. Her determination, bravery, and cunning were what made me keep turning the page. I also loved how Mariko was rather arrogant at the start but slowly became less so. Very Slytherin and A+ character development. The Black Clan was also great as a whole, and Okami and Ranmaru’s friendship was a wonderful thing to read about. Also, it took me much too long to clue in that they were ninjas. On that note, I also loved that Mariko was the one creating all the weapons we normally associate with ninjas (throwing stars, smoke bombs, etc.)
The romance, on the other hand, was a bit weak at first. Mariko spent so much time hating Okami that when she realized she liked him, it felt a bit sudden. Even if she had little things she liked about him before, her inner monologue did not make it very clear. I was uncertain whether the romance would unfold between her and Okami, Ren, or Ranmaru for a good chunk of the novel.
However, once the romance did unfold, it was very well-written. It was different, it was balanced, and it was exactly what I expected from Ahdieh. It wasn’t all-consuming, and it wasn’t world-ending. It just was. A very nice change of pace from the standard YA fantasy fare, if I may say so.
One little thing to note: having been a manga fan for most of my life, the italics on all the suffixes (-san, – sama, etc.) threw me off a lot. I kept thinking they were emphasizing the suffixes to be snarky, and I had to keep reminding myself that it’s just because the word is foreign. But if a book is as littered with foreign words as this one, maybe italicizing every single one isn’t the best thing to do. This is probably just my own personal bias, however.
She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko never understood the notion.
She was not a half. She was wholly her own.
– Page 197 (ARC edition)