‘Sup readers? Welcome to this week’s On The Shelf, the weekly Fan Fest hurrah in which I review a piece of fairly recent literature. The end-game is to try and help you decide whether this week’s read is shelf-worthy, or if it’s better to keep a copy on your ereader (I just realized I’ve thoroughly disliked more books than encouraged people to buy an ecopy). I try to switch up the genres every week, but much like last week’s column, this one is a fairytale retelling. Granted, it’s not the same fairytale, and it’s written with a younger demographic in mind.
This week’s pick is none other than Flame In The Mist, the recently-released Mulan retelling by New York Times bestselling YA author Reneé Ahdieh (The Wrath and The Dawn, The Rose and The Dagger). Much like her previous works, Flame In The Mist is going to be a duology, proving that two is, in fact, not the loneliest number since the number one. In fact, in Ahdieh’s case, it’s probably the best number so far, given her success with action-packed, unique stories.
So, here’s the low-down: Set in feudal Japan, Flame In The Mist follows 17-year-old Mariko, who is betrothed to the emperor’s oldest son. While she’s on her way to get hitched to a man she’s never met (claaaaaasic), Mariko’s convoy is attacked by The Black Clan, a group of dishonourable criminals, in a botched attempt on her life. Escaping by the skin of her teeth, Mariko swears vengeance and devises a plan to infiltrate The Black Clan to discover why there’s a bounty on her head, who set it, and how to bring down the entire organization. Of course, because this is a YA story based on the Disney version of Mulan, it wouldn’t be complete without the twist: once among the ranks of her enemies, Mariko, who joined them under the guise of being a boy, is treated with respect. She’s appreciated for her wits (she’s an inquisitive soul) and her skills (she’s an inventor) rather than viewed as mere marriageable property, like a pawn to be moved around for her parents’ advantage. And of course, she starts falling in love, which totally makes her question everything she’s ever known up until this point (naturally. This is why catching feelings is inconvenient, because you never know if you’ll be interested in your potential assassin. Seriously, there’s like, tons of true crime episodes about this).
Overall, Flame In The Mist is a solid YA fantasy book. Perhaps its strongest point is its setting; Ahdieh clearly did her research, this book truly feels like it’s set in another time and place, her prose bleeding off the page. Every scene, every character interaction, is detailed with the most intricate care. While it plods along slowly at points, taking awhile to get where it’s going, once it sinks its hooks into you, you won’t be able to put it down. This isn’t just a straightforward Mulan story; Ahdieh has weaved interconnecting plots that reveal a far bigger end-game, though what it is, you’ll have to find out for yourself. Expertly-played and cleverly-crafted, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
As far as main characters go, Mariko is a believable lead (if a little irksome, her flaws and strengths stay consistent throughout the novel). I really wish there was more of her relationship with Kenshin, especially since they’re twins.
Something I would have loved to see expanded upon were the fantastical creatures and various forms of magic. They’re introduced so abruptly and without much background, sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes loosey-goosey fantastical elements completely work, but the rest of this novel was so rich with detail and exposition that I fully expected the magic to be laid out with the same kind of care. Perhaps I’m the only one who feels that way, but I’m hoping the sequel will bring far more on this front.
Still, that is my only gripe with an otherwise engaging novel. I will eagerly await the sequel, and definitely recommend this a spot on the shelf. If you’d like a copy (you should totally go ahead and buy it, because it’s epic) you can get one here.