Book Review: Flame in the Mist (Renée Ahdieh)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 402

Release Date: May 18th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Review:

The description of this book reminded me a bit of Across the Nightingale Floor, which I loved as a teen, so I knew I had to read it.

When Mariko is ambushed on the way to her political arranged marriage and her guards and servants kills, she decides to disguise herself as a man and find out who tried to kill her, and why.

I really enjoyed this book at first but I found my attention waned about halfway through. It was still good, but it just wasn’t quite doing it for me: there was no ‘oh, the feels, stuff just happened and I read it and that was that.

Mariko was an interesting character. I do love reading about women trying to overcome the stereotypes and oppressions that are put on them because of their gender, especially in societies very different to the one I live in. I admired Mariko’s determination to prove her worth beyond a political marriage, but I did question the way she went about things a lot of the time.

She didn’t want to go home after being ambushed as there’d be questions about her maidenhood etc, so instead, she dresses as a man and hangs out with a group of men… how is that any better?! She constantly saying how smart she is and how she outwits everyone, but she rarely proves that with her actions – amongst the men of the Black Clan, she seems to be a bit out of her depth.

The twist at the end wasn’t particularly surprising and it didn’t really punch me in the stomach like I wanted it to. The romance was predictable and didn’t really do much for me either. Still, this was an enjoyable read and an interesting take on a Mulan style story.

3

Book Review: Grass for his Pillow (Lian Hearn)

Details:

Series: Tales of the Otori
Pages: 305
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: 2003


Blurb:

Takeo knows he will love the beautiful Kaede until death. But after one night together they are destined never to meet again.

The young warrior is torn between two futures. His life is pledged to the merciless Tribe, who need his amazing magical skills in their secret world of assassination. He is also heir to the powerful Otori clan. But if he tries to claim his birthright, the Tribe will kill him.

Kaede, alone in a distant land, fights her own powerful enemies, while Takeo must make his choice. Ahead of him lies a journey that will test him to the limits of his being. And reveal the truth about who he really is…

Review:

I always find the middle of a trilogy is where it falls down a little: the first one sets everything up, the last one rounds everything off and often the middle can seem like a tedious setting up of the pieces.

There is some element of this in Grass for his Pillow: the pace can feel a little slow, there’s a lot of talking and training but not a huge amount of action. Even so, the characters and their conflicts are compelling enough to make you fly through the book, ready for the sequel that ends it all with a bang/a lot of battles.

Takeo’s mixed heritage is a driving force in this book. His Tribe blood and promised allegiance to him takes him away from his life as an Otori lord and two of the most important things to him: revenge on those who betrayed his adopted father, Shigeru and his love, Kaede. If stays with the Tribe he will never be happy, but if he leaves them he’ll never be safe.

Kaede, makes an alliance with an mysterious neighbour that, although working in her favour, seems like a pact with the devil. She continues to be the book’s answer to a feminist, not acting or thinking as women were supposed to at the time, but it doesn’t feel like a modern thought shoved into a different time zone: she still struggles with the idea that she is not ‘normal’ by other people’s standards and worries her strength will make the powerful men around her want to crush her.

While the previous book, Across the Nightingale Floor shows Takeo and Kaede being controlled by those around them, this book allows them to make their own choices and then face the consequences their actions have. While they generally choose well for themselves, it is their passion for each other that leads them to rash decisions – like getting married without the clans permission – which may lead to disastrous consequences.

The pace is a little slow, perhaps reflecting the frustrations of the protagonists, who spend a lot of their time inside due to the harsh winter, and by the time the snow thaws both reader and characters are anxious for things to start moving: the final installment of the trilogy promises to deliver a lot.

My Verdict:

 

4

Check out The Brilliance of the Moon, the next in the series.