“Flame in the Mist” by Renee Ahdieh (Book Review) | Too Much Brooding And Far Too Little Action

It’s with a heavy heart that I finally admit that Renee Ahdieh’s newest fantasy book didn’t live up to my expectations.

The premise was absolutely fascinating, and I braced myself for tons of amazing fighting scenes, court intrigue, and general badassery. What I actually got, however, was far too much brooding and far too little action.


Publishing date: May 16, 2017
Pages: 393
Genre: YA Fantasy/Romance

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.

Rating: 2 of Mariko’s ninja stars. Minor spoilers.

ahdieh_flame in the mist


1. First off, MARIKO.

Oh, Mariko. My small, sage brooder/philosopher.

I spent the book alternating between giggling at her words and also wanting to smack her in the face with one of her ninja stars. Which, by the way, she very conveniently invented because she’s just that special!

Let’s start with the positives: She was a very confident, spunky protagonist.

She grows from a pampered bride-to-be into a slightly less pampered but still stubborn-as-ever soldier of the Black Clan. And despite not being physically strong, Mariko is described as resilient and incredibly sure of her own intelligence (sometimes to the point of arrogance)… and those are basically the only nice things I can say about her, because she was just so incredibly annoying. Like, I-want-to-tear-an-entire-stack-of-tissues-into-little-pieces annoying. I-had-to-create-an-entirely-new-shelf-on-goodreads annoying. I-stopped-reading-the-book-to-scream-into-my-pillow-multiple-times annoying.

Mariko was . . . odd. Curious. Clever. Perhaps too clever, as her father always said. It has never been meant as a compliment, though she had always taken it as one.

Her “cleverness” is practically shoved down our throats. But being sure of your own intelligence, and actually being intelligent, are two very different things. For such an apparently perceptive young girl, I found her glaringly, embarrassingly clueless.

From what I observed, Mariko spends the majority of the book stumbling around after the Black Clan, trying her best to be devious but really just digging herself into an even deeper hole. Being inside her head was exhausting, not to mention her line of reasoning was questionable at best.

Oh, and and along the way, she very conveniently invents a couple of miraculous weapons! How fantastic. How intelligent. The entire world applauds you.

Image result for how smart gif

Today her thoughts were consumed by murderous retribution. Mariko had dreamed of setting fire to the Black Clan’s camp no less than ten times in the past hour.

Maybe Mariko should do less evil plotting and more actual… doing. Maybe she should stop uttering platitudes and start carrying out her ingenious plans. (Hon, I hate to break it to you, but you’re about as scary as a bunny rabbit with a carrot sword.)

Image result for mulan gif
                time Mariko spends saying this: 99% of book                    
time Mariko spends actually doing this: 0% of book

I have to say, though, I liked that she doesn’t just waltz into camp with everyone magically accepting her. She has to earn it, for the first time in her life. Earn trust, earn respect, earn her place in the Black Clan. Which, BTW, she’s totally going to destroy. Even though that Ōkami guy looks super hot, and has chiseled abs, and moves with gorgeous catlike graceful grace… DO YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING?!

2. …The romance. 

“Do that again,” he said in a dangerous whisper. “See what happens.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?”

That time, he did smile. But just barely.

This romance has all the subtlety of Yoshi’s boiled eggs smashing you in the noggin. Their slow “build-up” classifies as hate-to-love, I guess, but their love for each other comes out so suddenly, it’s startling. I found the entire scenario in which they finally realized their mutual attraction to each other sort of funny, highly unrealistic, and oddly disturbing.

It really makes me wonder whether Ōkami has been silently and furiously suppressing his attraction to Mariko the entire time she was masquerading around as a boy.

To clarify, I found Ōkami much more likable than Mariko, partly because he didn’t wax on about how clever he was all the time. But I still don’t understand their relationship, I find no joy in reading their pointless banter (which tries too hard to be all witty and deep?), and I personally didn’t feel any chemistry between them.

No awkward love triangle pops up, thank goodness, or I would have imploded from disappointment. Romance is arguably one of the driving forces of this novel, which makes it ten times worse.

Image result for mulan you're a girl gif

Conclusion: I do not ship.

3. The”magic”. Was it magic? I still don’t know.

Now, the magical world-building can be summarized in three words: WHAT. WAS. HAPPENING.

Image result for its magic gif

The purpose and function of this entire “magical” system is yet to be revealed. Instead of creating suspense, this lack of clarity just provoked my irritation, because I would really like to know what’s going on. I shouldn’t have to rack my brain to understand what’s happening, and I’m not even going to get started on that completely ridiculous ending.

The author leaves a heck ton of loose ends- not only in the unexplained random magical happenings, but also in the random new characters who keep popping in and out whose names I keep forgetting.

Image result for visible confusion gif

From Kenshin’s anger management problems, to Ōkami’s slow-motion ninja moves, to even that empress’s (was she an empress? I’ve honestly forgotten) shadowy antics, there was so much happening, yet so little actually making sense.

4. The pretty, flowy writing.

Mariko took a small bite. The white of the egg was cool and creamy. Light as a feather. Its center was the warm yellow of a dandelion. Steam rose from it in a perfect curl. 

^ This is Mariko eating an egg. The description stretches on for two pages. We get it, Mariko. The egg is good.

Ahdieh’s writing in her previous duology, The Wrath and the Dawn, was beautiful, and it could, at times, mesmerize me with its poetic language and colorful descriptions.

But this type of writing also had a tendency to bog me down. The flowery prose and exaggerated attention to detail can be a pain to slog through, especially when nothing of substance is happening in the plot. Which, unfortunately, happened to be the case for the majority of this book.

Her style of writing is much the same. While I admit that I did enjoy the rich depiction of Japanese culture (one of my favorite parts!), in the end, I was faced with the same problem I had with her debut novel. The pretty writing began to drag down the pace, to the point where I stopped caring what happened to any of the characters. At times, the prose also just served to accentuate the disappointing lack of action and unnecessary plot points.

I quickly tired of her whimsical metaphors and comparisons to the earth and whatnot. No one needs this many long-winded descriptions of someone’s attire- if I have to read another word of what Mariko or Yumi or Ranmaru was wearing, I’m going to SHRIEK.

5. The side characters were forgettable.

I quite lost track of the side characters. To this day, I still don’t understand their purpose, and most of them have no discernible personality traits aside from their association with Mariko.

6. On the up side: quotable material!

yumi_flame in the mist

I could really see that the author put in a significant amount of effort to make this book empowering and inspirational. Mariko, unfortunately, was neither of those things.

She may occasionally make me want to rip out my own hair, but I’ll give her this: she has some pretty sweet one-liners.

I feel like I can just frame a few of these quotes in my room to make me feel better about life. Though I might not have particularly cared for the characters, or the plot, or the romance, the little tidbits of wisdom were cool! Okay, some of them didn’t really make any sense, but here are some of the especially quotable ones: 

There is such strength in being a woman. But it is a strength you must choose for yourself. No one can choose it for you. We can bend the wind to our ear if we would only try.

A blossom can split through rock, given enough time.

True weakness is weakness of the spirit.

Basically, this entire book was disappointment. The concept was so incredibly fascinating, but it just let me down completely. I read this so, so slowly that at one point, I forgot what had happened and started over. I ACTUALLY STARTED OVER. I have NEVER had to do that before.

However, I will still definitely be on the lookout for the sequel. I have too many unanswered questions to just give up on this series now. This is a very, very loose Mulan retelling, so don’t come looking for one.

Lots of people probably loved this book- I don’t know what went wrong with me? If you ever decide to pick it up, I hope you enjoyed it more than I did! 🙂

P.S. Mariko, you are a DISGRACE to Mulan.

17 thoughts on ““Flame in the Mist” by Renee Ahdieh (Book Review) | Too Much Brooding And Far Too Little Action

  1. love the review! you summed up my thoughts in such a concise and entertaining way 🙂 ….I was a bit too angry at this book to write a polite review so mine ended up being more of a swearing-filled rant 😬

    Liked by 1 person

      • awww thank you!!! that is 100% true, she’s really one of the most frustrating characters I’ve ever read about…..I still get mad thinking about her

        Liked by 1 person

      • honestly, same. What do I even have against her?…. *whispers* EVERYTHING.

        though, I’m probably going to be picking up the sequel because I was super duper confused in this book and I need answers?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww… I’m sorry to see this was so disappointing. 😦 I can definitely see where you’re coming from though. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fascinating! So, we both agree about soooo much, but we walked away with different experiences. I wonder how much of my positive experience came from listening to the audiobook? That forced pacing, inflection, and a few other things which I know influenced my enjoyment. Hm.

    Let’s chat Mariko. Mariko is one of those people who is soooo smart she completely lacks common sense. You know those people, right? Plus, I think she is severely lacking on the emotional intelligence scale (either that, or she’s hitting puberty a bit later than most females; I’d take either option). I was able to forgive her lack of common sense in that way. And you’re right– she’s more Mushu than Mulan! XD XD XD I love that analogy!

    THE ROMANCE. Worst. There is a moment when Ranmaru and Okami are talking, and Okami wonders to himself whether he should explain his strange feelings for the young Lord Lackbeard — I knew at that time, Okami was questioning his sexuality. He totally had the hots for Mariko when Okami only knew her as a boy. And I loved that aspect. It made the insta-sex moment WAY more believable. Like, he was furious at her for making him doubt his sexuality and he needed to conqure that whole thing. I didn’t really *like* it, but I bought into it for that reason.

    Yes the complete lack of magic. Yes the stupid flowery and dramatic writing. No on the forgettable secondary characters. Yoshi and Ranmaru and Yumi all stuck out to me, for sure. Kenshin less so… But other than them? Like, the Emperor and his consorts? Meh.

    I love that we both thought similar things but walked away with different opinions of the book! This is why I love book blogging.

    Do you plan on reading book two some day?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting!! I definitely LOVE reading about other people’s perspectives on books like these– it’s one of my favorite parts about reviewing!! It’s so fun to see how our reading experiences differed. 😀 And yes, I’m *definitely* going to pick up Book 2 when it comes out, just so that I can actually find out what’s happening with the whole magic system. I wanted so badly to like this book!!

      And hmmm, maybe the audiobook DID influence your perspective?? I’ve personally never listened to an audiobook before, so I don’t know how much that would impact enjoyment. I’m really curious now, though!!

      And MARIKO. I could not stand her!!! I can definitely see that she’s really not big on emotional intelligence– like you said, maybe she’s just coming into puberty late? XD On the positive side, I DID admire her confidence and fearlessness, though her actions did occasionally make her seem rather foolish.

      I kind of wish Ahdieh explored that whole “Okami questioning his sexuality” thing more… it would have actually been so entertaining to read about. Or maybe I’m just evil and want to see the characters squirm. :’)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to be honest, I’m not hopeful that we’ll learn more about the magic system in book two. But, who knows!

        I adore audiobooks. I have quite a bit of a driving commute over the course of my week. I find that they help me pass the time. A good narrator can really make of break a book. In this case the narrator, Nancy Wu, probably influenced my interpretation of Mariko based on her own inflections. Almost everything she said as filled with blind passion and conviction. That made it easy for me to pass off Mariko’s foolishness as just ignorance or lying to herself.

        I strongly encourage you to check out audiobooks some day. They are great for times when you are doing other things, like cleaning the house or driving, so your hands are occupied but not a ton of your mind.

        I’m with you on wishing that Ahdieh has explored Okami potentially questioning his sexuality. I wonder how that would have been interpreted in feudal Japan. Then again, Ranmaru knew the whole time that Mariko was a girl, so I bet he would have really dug into Okami.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve actually been meaning to try audiobooks out for forever! They’re perfect for multitasking, but at the same time, I’m terrible at multitasking. Definitely someday, though!!

        and I need to understand what’s going on with the magic system!! that ending was so incredibly confusing, so I’m still hoping the author will somehow explain it.

        Okami wondering if he’s gay would have twisted up the entire romance so much more. Ranmaru would just have been laughing silently in the back watching Okami grapple with his feelings for Mariko. :’)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Audiobooks require focus for sure. It’s easy to get distracted and miss something which is happening. I like to listen during my commute or while folding laundry or some such. But not when doing much else. 😉

        XD I’d love to explore Ranmaru’s antagonistic relationship with Okami some more. I’m sure it’s there. Somewhere. 😉 You can’t be besties like that and not.

        Liked by 1 person

      • HAHA that would actually be so fun to read about 😉 And yeah, it’s so difficult for me to just do something else while listening to even a podcast at the same time! The words always fly right by head because I’m not paying attention. But I know audiobooks are way more convenient for travel (much easier than lugging around a bag filled with books! Believe me, I understand that struggle all too well) D:

        Liked by 1 person

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