At seventeen years old Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose and the son of the emperor, for the first time. The trip is cut short when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits that have been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace. Mariko escapes to the woods where she plots her revenge. She cuts her hair short and dresses herself as a boy to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down the ones responsible for trying to kill her.
"Be swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakeable as the mountain."
First I want to talk about the pacing of the book. I had read on a review a while ago that the first half of the story is really slow but that it picks up. I had that in my mind when I started the book, and I'm not sure if I went in thinking it was going to be really slow or if the story was just something I was going to be interested in early on but I didn't have too many issues with the pacing. The beginning was a little slow (first fifty pages or so) and there was a section in the middle that did get a bit slow but overall I was okay with the pacing. However, I buddy read this and my reading buddy did say that the story was too slow for her, so it obviously depends on each reader.
I loved this story. I really loved the idea of a main girl character having to infiltrate a group of dangerous bandits. I haven't read many stories with this trope, the only other one I can think of is Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce but I was super into it. I really enjoyed Mariko as a character because of her inner strength. I liked that although she is a strong character mentally, physically she has to work really hard to keep up with the guys, even if she is skilled with weaponry.
The characters were probably my favorite aspect of Flame in the Mist. I loved Mariko's interactions and conversations with the boys of the Black Clan. I found the teasing, banter, and overall comradery to be really endearing and often comical. It helped the reader really get to know the characters. I like that the story is so focused on the characters, because by the time the action starts to pick up the reader legitimately cares for the well being of the characters. My favorite characters were Mariko, Ōkami, Yoshi, and Ranmaru.
"The only power any man has over you is the power you give him."
I had a couple of minor issues with the book as a whole. One being the choppy sentences. Ahdieh has talent when it comes to writing great characters and dialogue but the sentences were often choppy and short. It got to be a bit distracting at times and it would take me out of the story. My second problem was that some of the minor characters weren't fleshed out enough for me to remember who they were exactly, or even for me to care if something happened to them. I wouldn't say I completely didn't care what happened to them, because we do get snippets of their personalities but I didn't feel as connected to them as I did the main characters. What happened once or twice is a character would pop up, and I'd have to flip back to remember who they were. My final problem with Flame in the Mist was the telling and not showing when it came to Mariko. Like I said earlier, I do enjoy Mariko as a character but I think she also was the most frustrating. She made a handful of pretty stupid bad decisions that I got so mad at her about. Which would be fine, and I'd come to the conclusion that she just wasn't very bright, but she's constantly being referred to as this really intelligent person and I didn't always see that.
"He recalled how she smiled. How her lips would waver at first, as though she still had not decided whether or not it was wise to show her feelings."
I think the romance was subtle and that it felt natural. I like that it was more of a secondary theme and that the Black Clan/revenge story was the forefront topic of the story. I think it made the relationship more believable. Ahdieh is also talented at writing romantic tension between characters because you really get the full impact of their feelings for each other even if there aren't many scenes focused on the relationship. Mariko and her love interest had some serious chemistry that I felt myself getting giddy during those rare moments of intimacy between them. I think that giddiness that I felt happened more often than just the romantic parts. I felt it anytime the characters were being funny or endearing to each other, even during the teasing and bickering. I just loved it.
Overall, I highly enjoy this book. I cannot wait for book two and I just want more, now. I borrowed this book from my library but I know for sure that I need this book for my own collection. It had me laughing, tearing up, and even worried and feeling angry for the characters. I'm so happy that I picked up Flame in the Mist and I hope if you pick it up you like it as much as I did.