Reviewed in India on 24 May 2017
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
Renee Ahdieh, an American bestselling author, is back with another enthralling young adult dystopian-cum-fantasy series called, Flame in the Mist and the first book in the series with the same title opens with the life and challenges of a rebellious Japanese teenage heroine, who, when attempted to murder by a group of Robin Hood-styled bandits, escapes both her fate of getting married to her betrothed and her fate of getting slaughtered by a group of men, instead she breaks in into that group of bandits by cross-dressing as a man.
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.
Mariko, the teenage daughter to a famous samurai man, has forever led a privileged life, but that had no happiness or freedom, as she was betrothed to a man the moment she took birth. And now she is 17 and is already on her way to the imperial palace where her prince is waiting to be wed, fortunately it seems her luck is on her side, when her whole troop is attacked by a notorious ninja-themed bandits called the Black Clan and when they tried to kill her, Mariko escapes into the woods, as there is no point of going back home, since her parents will again send her to marry off that man. And gradually she finds a way into the very core of this rebel group in order to take revenge on them by disguising herself as a boy. Little did she knew that she would discover so much secrets about this group who happens to be her sole enemy and also about the life she left behind.
Am I the only one who has not yet read The Wrath & The Dawn series books by the same author? Oh well, I regret it badly and especially after reading this particular book, that left me mesmerized, mystified and gratified till the turn of the very last page, that ends with a bang and that left me in sweats to find out what happens in the next book. Also I would like to clarify a slight thing about this book that when this was marketed, they said that it is a retelling of Disney princess story Mulan, but this isn't a retelling, this story is unique and proves the author's unmatchable talent for imagination and storytelling, instead it is so much more than a Disney princess story where the protagonist is more developed, feminist and mature than a mere princess. I can worship this young heroine, Mariko for her smarts and her intellect.
The author's writing style is absolutely exquisite, laced perfectly with emotions that hit at the right nodes, and hold an ability to sway the readers along with its flow. The narrative is articulate and engaging enough to keep the readers glued till the very end. The pacing is really fast, as I felt myself rushing and breezing easily through the chapters until the cliffhanger that left me kind of breathless to find out the big scoop, that the author might reveal in her next book.
The backdrop of a feudal Japan is vividly, intricately and extraordinarily depicted by the author, that the author has arrested with Japanese flair and aura, so the readers are bound to get that oriental and exotic charm while reading this book. The scenes are penned with utmost clarity and strikingly that the readers will feel themselves standing right in middle of that scene and witnessing everything right before their own eyes. The world building is done with logic and depth, even though it is a make-believe universe, yet somewhere the realism strikes amidst the magic and the fantastical creatures lurking in its very core.
The characters are also very well developed, with layers and imperfection to make them look realistic in the eyes of the readers of any age. The main character, Mariko, I already fan-girled about her demeanor, but at times, I felt her to be bit indecisive, although that incomparable intuition of hers will make the readers fall for her. The skills that this young heroine possessed is simply brilliant and inspiring enough to steal all the attraction towards herself. Apart from her, there are some characters, like her twin brother, the leader of the clan, the teacher who teaches about fighting to Mariko etc are also painted with enough thoughts, back story and realism, that the readers won't be able to shake them off from their minds long after the end of this beautiful story.
In a nutshell, this page-turning book is a must read for all young adult fantasy lovers and I wouldn't be surprised if some film director/producer purchases the movie rights for this book. I'm sure it would be epic, in one word!