“Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving.”
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.
For a long time, I’ve heard people praising anything Renée Ahdieh, and I thought to myself, “Gee, I should get in on this.” And finally, I have. I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve finished A Flame in the Mist.
And I’m kind of not sure what the party’s about, to be honest.
I mean, there were good things about the book. I enjoyed a few of the key scenes immensely, like the early fight scene in the tavern and the entirety of the tea house conflict. Those were exciting and had me riveted because they could have gone in any direction. I also loved Mariko, at least in part. She’s brilliant! She created new weapons, thought her way through, and is just generally clever. Couple that with the fact that the odds were stacked against her, and I liked her quite a bit.
But the rest of the book was kind of a let down. As much as it promises that Mariko is clever and indecisive, it says it more than it shows it. As important as it tries to make her brother, he fell flat. He was like a puppet, really: he’s got some purpose, but it hardly feels like his own. And as much as it tries to make Okami mysterious and brooding and attractive, he mostly comes off as an asshole, which meant that I spent every second of the romance scenes bored out of my skull.
He’s pushy, snarly, and cold, and just because he’s doing the right thing by poor people in the region doesn’t mean he’s doing the right thing by Mariko, not the way he treats her most of the time. I like a good enemies to lovers story, but only when the characters can actually change their enemy behaviors (and even better, apologize for them when they’re real bad!) and show that they like being around one another for more than just smashing faces. It was kind of made even worse when I was expected aromantic Mariko based on her answers to a conversation about love, and suddenly she’s making out in the rain with the guy who generally treats her like dirt and does his utmost to make her angry? And she’s in love with him and it’s like magic.
Beyond that, I had issues with the prose and the plot. People have raved and raved about the prose, but I found it overly purple and prone to philosophizing, not to mention halting. There’s lots of places where it would have been nice to see a comma instead of a period, just to keep the flow, but a lot of the passages that were attempting to be impactful and stunning felt a little stop and go, a little choppy. It was distracting, not enticing. As for the plot, the big questions Mariko sets out to answer in the beginning of the book aren’t even answered, not even in part. She still doesn’t know who put the hit out on her caravan and exactly why, and instead of making it clear to the readers in the final chapter, a completely new character, unheard from before in the entire book, is introduced as a major player. It only complicates things, and while I understand this was meant to be series, the first book still should answer some questions while raising new conflicts in preparation for the next book, and Flame in the Mist really didn’t feel like it answer much.
I really wish I could have enjoyed this book more, that it had lived up to all the hype surrounding it, but I left so detached and uninterested that I don’t think I’ll be back for the sequel, which is a shame. If only I had connected to the characters more, had felt the plot was connected just a little better, I might have stuck around, but it’s going to be a pass from me.
Have you read Flame in the Mist? How did you feel about it? And hey, while we’re at it, what enemies to lovers stories have you enjoyed, ones that are really impressive? Hit me with them. Especially if they’re f/f because I have NEVER read an f/f enemies to lovers story and I need to.