3 out of 5 Stars
This book was tagged as a re-writing of Mulan, but set in feudal Japan. I loved Mulan as a kid (and still as an adult!), and am intrigued by Japanese folklore (closet Inuyasha fan here…). So I had to jump on this one!
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.
My Thoughts? (Spoiler Free!)
There were so many things I absolutely loved about this book–the setting, the backstory, even the prospect of a “delicate” noblewoman turned bandit. But sadly, the novel fell short of my high expectations.
The book follows Mariko, a young woman who’s always aspired to rise above the expectations of those around her. She’s a scientist at heart, an explorer, a warrior, but she’s destined to be one thing only–a daughter married off to the highest bidder.
Or at least, that’s how she’s supposed to seem. Overall I really disliked Mariko’s character. She came off as whiny, with WAY to much internal monologue. It really slowed down the story. She goes on about how ingenious she is but then falls prey to some questionably dumb choices. Overall these issues bogged down the beginning of the story and also led to a somewhat convoluted plot line.
After Mariko’s party is attacked on their way to her soon-to-be husband’s home, she escapes and decides to hide in plain sight, dressed as a boy to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan–the bandit group suspected of attacking and killing her party. But she soon grows to love and care for the group of bandit.
This novel really tried to push how intelligent and driven Mariko was, but it just got annoying after a while. It seemed like the story was telling us how smart she was, but didn’t do a really good job of showing it. The only truly ingenious thing she actually does involves creating a new sort of bomb… which ends up being a mistake anyway. But we won’t go there…
Despite my glaring dislike of Mariko, there were some things I really liked about this book. The love interest story line was well-developed, despite being predictable. The secondary characters were pretty interesting as well, each with their own unique back stories and personalities. I feel like I would have enjoyed reading more of their stories actually…
I LOVED the feudal setting. There were so many elements of Japanese culture sprinkled in, it made for some beautiful and inspired imagery. I especially loved how magic and creatures from Japanese lore were woven throughout the plot. Though, some of the magic involvement made the plot line a bit confusing later on in the story.
Overall, I give Flame in the Mist 3 out of 5 stars. If you love Japanese folklore and don’t mind a lot of internal monologue, check this story out 🙂