About the Book

Title: Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1)
Published: 2017
Series: Flame in the Mist
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Spread Your Wings
BFF Charm: Heck Yes
Talky Talk: Feudal Fantasy
Bonus Factors: Shades of Mulan and Robin Hood, Mysterious Loner Dudes
Factor: Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Cliffhanger
Relationship Status: I Pledge My Allegiance

Cover Story: Spread Your Wings

There isn’t a literal flaming peacock in the book, but I dig the symbolism of the image. Plus, love the mix of blossoms and throwing stars; the dichotomy between the two is a good way to depict the book’s main character.

The Deal:

Hattori Mariko doesn’t want to marry the bastard son of the Emperor, but she’s willing to do so for her family (and their political standing). But on their way to the capital city, Mariko’s convoy is attacked by members of the dreaded Black Clan, and she’s left for dead. Their mistake: the need for information and vengeance fuels Mariko and drives her to disguise herself as a peasant boy and seek out the clan.

When she finds them, even if they at first treat her like a prisoner, Mariko’s surprised to find that they’re not as bad as rumors might suggest. Her time with them opens her eyes to the truth of things—and opens her heart to the possibilities of love.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

At the start of Flame in the Mist, Mariko has lived a privileged life and is pretty set in her ways and beliefs. As she spends time disguised as a boy, however, and with the members of the Black Clan, her eyes are opened, both to the reality of the world in which she lives, and the lies she’s been told—or has told herself. Even though she can be crazy stubborn, she’s willing to (eventually) admit when she’s wrong, and learns that questioning the status quo is actually a good thing.

Mariko’s also a feminist in a time when such views were frowned upon*:

His lips curled upward. “In case your mother never told you, pretty girls like you should smile. Especially if you’re trying to get a man to do your bidding.”

Mariko stiffened. She hated his words. Hated the suggestion that she needed a man to do anything for her.

Hated its truth.

Total BFF material, for sure.

*Unlike now, right? #lesigh

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

When Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan, she’s expecting to find a group of older men of the worst sort: vicious, thieving brutes who are willing to do anything for coin. She doesn’t expect the members of the clan to be so young, so honorable (in their own way), or so appealing, in looks and personality. Except for [REDACTED], who’s The Worst. Nothing to like about him AT ALL.

Talky Talk: Feudal Fantasy

This is my first book by Renée Ahdieh, but I’ve heard many a glowing review of her previous novels from friends and readers whose opinions I value. After reading Flame in the Mist, I can see why people love her work. The novel is well-written and engrossing; once I started reading, I didn’t really want to put the book down. I can’t say that I’m too familiar with the world of feudal Japan, but whenever Ahdieh used a term that might need defining, she gave plenty of context clues for us uncultured folk to figure out what she meant. (Plus: there’s a glossary in the back if you’re really struggling.) Her prose is lush, and her descriptions are colorful—sometimes even literally:

Her pursed lips reminded him of rosebuds. Not red. Nothing loud and obvious. But blushing pink. Subtle and warm. Just like the way she smelled. As if the color gold had a scent.

Ahdieh’s characters are compelling, but I did occasionally get confused as to who was who; many of them have their given names, plus the names they go by, plus titles, plus nicknames. I think I got them all straight by the end, but it was a bit of a puzzle at times.

Additionally, although Flame in the Mist does have familiar pieces to its story (see Bonus Factor: Shades of Mulan and Robin Hood below), it incorporates a lot of folkloric fantasy elements and historical nods that help ground the book in the feudalistic Japanese setting.

Bonus Factor: Shades of Mulan and Robin Hood

Flame in the Mist isn’t a straight retelling of any story, but the plot does include bits and pieces that are familiar, from a young Japanese woman who rebels against the patriarchy by dressing as a man to a group of misfit outcasts who rob from the rich to give to the poor.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dudes

Jordan Catalano, a hot brooding stoner, in My So-Called Life

Most of the members of the Black Clan have Reasons for being in the clan, and I’m capitalizing reasons for, well, reasons. None of their backgrounds are perfect, nor are their histories simple, and there’s a lot to discover about who they are and where they come from.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

On the one hand, I’m excited that we get more from this series than one book. On the other hand, there are many storylines to resolve in the next book (or books), and there is a lot of backstory currently left untold. I want—nay, need—to know more, specifically, about certain characters’ paranormal aspects.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Cliffhanger

A man dressed all in black (Sylvester Stallone) clings to a cliff face

I suspected Flame in the Mist wouldn’t end on a wholly satisfactory note, because the action started ramping up (again) right before the final chapters. However, although I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, I didn’t throw my book across the room in frustration.

Relationship Status: I Pledge My Allegiance

I don’t know what I can offer you that would be of use, Book, as I’m not trained in the use of katanas and have never been in a physical fight. But I’m pretty handy when it comes to tools, and like to think that I can learn other skills if only given the chance. Will you accept me into your clan? Pretty please? Don’t make me beg. (Although I will, if it comes to that.)

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Penguin. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Flame in the Mist is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.