The hype surrounding Flame in the Mist mostly seemed to arise from the exciting idea that this book would be a retelling of one of the most beloved Disney films, Mulan. I, too, was really excited by that possibility and so I went in with some pretty high expectations. After reading, I have to say that while I really like this book, I can’t say that it’s perfect.
Renée Ahdieh’s writing is just as descriptive and fluid as her prose in her The Wrath & the Dawn duology. She goes into great detail to bring her setting of feudal Japan to life, and it’s quite obvious that the author did a good bit of research to make her characters and the world they live in to be as authentic as possible. While some elements of the Mulan storyline are present (i.e. girl disguises herself as a boy), the story itself is fairly original and a story all its own.
The characters were all very interesting, especially Mariko, whom I found to be very clever, independent, strong-willed, and extremely capable of taking care of herself. And luckily, Mariko wasn’t the only strong female character. There were other women who excelled in their own strengths, such as the geishas, the emperor’s mistress, and even the empress, and so I really appreciated the feminist aspect of the book.
I also found Mariko’s and Kenshin’s sibling relationship to be strong and genuine despite the distance between them. And even though we weren’t given that many chapters from Kenshin’s POV, I felt that we were given enough to get to really know and appreciate his character.
Okami had a mysteriousness about him I found appealing and I liked his standoffish yet playful nature. I enjoyed his odd friendship with Mariko while she was disguised as a boy, but I felt as if the romance between him and Mariko (once it she is revealed to be a girl) was a bit forced and not at all very well-developed. It kind of appeared for the sake of plot progression and it just didn’t feel natural enough.
As for the plot itself, I felt the beginning was very engaging and started out with a bang, but the rest of the book sort of reaches a plateau in which nothing of great interest occurs. The action is severely reduced as the pacing slows down so that we’re better able to see Mariko engage with her environment. The ending, however, picks up the pace again, only to end far too quickly and somewhat abruptly.
The magic element was a welcome addition to the story but the description of the magical acts were kind of vague. I didn’t really understand the rules of magic use in this world and by the end, I was kind of wondering if it was really necessary even though I knew it was. Hopefully the next book clears some things up.
Mariko’s fierceness and determination are the best parts about the book and I love how detailed this world is. I would have liked to read more action scenes and I wish the romance and Mariko’s friendships among the Black Clan members were better established. Other than those few things, I thought this was a very enjoyable book.