Read a full summary of Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. This page is full of spoilers, so beware! If you are wondering what happened in Flame in the Mist, the first book in this series, then you are in the right place!
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***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Flame in the Mist?
A young boys’ father is decapitated for being a traitor. He thinks his father’s compatriots will get revenge eventually.
Ten years later: Mariko’s father has arranged a marriage for her that will elevate her family’s status in the ruling class. She’s on her way to marry Prince Raiden. Her convoy is attacked. She’s the only one who survives. Mariko sees what appears to be a yellow-eyed beast in the forest. It disappears. A grimy old man appears. He threatens her, so Mariko fights him. She’s tired of having men make decisions and fight her battles for her. She slashes his throat. She cuts her hair, steals his clothes, and leaves to solve the mystery of her attackers.
Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin comes upon the scene of the attack three days later and notices she escaped.
The emperor wanders in his gardens, thinking how he hasn’t accomplished enough during his reign. Kananko, the love of his life, his mistress and the mother of his oldest son Raiden, approaches with news of the attack on Mariko’s convoy. They see his wife (the empress) in the distance. He asks if she knows the news. His mistress says yes. He replies ‘So it begins.’
After several days of looking for the Black Clan, the most likely suspects, Mariko trades a jade pin from her mother for the information.
On the second night, members of the Clan arrive at the bar. They are mostly her age. She looks for the young, old, or outcasts, wondering if any would talk to someone who at first lends a listening ear. The leader is Ranmaru.
A group of giant men storm the bar to fight Ranmaru and call him by a different name. The Black Clan leader is the son of the disgraced Samurai whose execution she watched ten years ago.
Kenshin finds the man Mariko murdered. A jade hairpin is stabbed in his eye. He knows Mariko killed him and is now posing as a boy. He doesn’t notice the yellow eyes in the forest him watching him.
Ranmaru calls for a fight among his best man and the giant leader. Mariko is surprised the man she assumed to be lazy is the one called on. He easily defeats the giant using some strange power that blurs his edges. Mariko notices the giant is about ready to stealthily attack and calls attention to it. The Black Clan leaders order her to stay. They call her Lord Lackbeard. They drug her. She wakes up thrown over the back haunch of a horse. She visits with Ranmaru for a moment and then with Okami, the “lazy” boy who fought the giant. She is mouthy and is lucky she isn’t punished.
Kenshin loses any trace of Mariko and is forced to march home. A peasant girl whose father is the village weapon maker comes to visit Kenshin. They’re longtime friends and appear to want to be something more. She tries to comfort him about Mariko’s disappearance.
A young boy named Ren watches over Mariko. Okami comes to check on them. The two get into a verbal and then physical sparring match.
Mariko wakes that night to the sound of a wounded animal’s scream. She follows Ren through the trees. It’s the cries of a boy who had snuck into the camp to murder members of the Clan. He’s entangled in roots of the jubokko, a tree throughout the forest which protects the Clan. Ranmaru tells the boy a story which Mariko realizes is about his father and Okami’s. They grew up together with a third boy, too. Ranmaru’s father valued honor, Okami’s valued justice, and the third boy ambition. The third boy convinced Okami’s father to execute Ranmaru’s. Then the third boy executed Okami’s. Then Okami killed the remaining man by burning down his tent. This is why Ranmaru and Okami are linked for life and why Okami serves Ranmaru instead of the other way around.
Yoshi sends her to the weapons master to sell her throwing star idea while he gets her tent put up. The weapons master says it will be too labor-intensive to make stars that would be left behind in battle. Ranmaru and Okami arrive. Okami is just arriving home from his trek. Mariko has often wondered where he goes by himself and discovers it is Hanami, a disreputable place known for its pleasure houses. Mariko mouths off about Okami’s pilgrimages there. Ranmaru says she has it all wrong. If she can figure out how to reasonably, efficiently make the throwing stars, they’ll take her to Inako to show her what it’s like.
Ranmaru and Okami talk about Mariko’s intelligence but lack of survival skills, assuming the boy was raised in a privileged family. Ranmaru puts her under Okami’s charge. He can tell the boy gets under Okami’s skin and will let him make the call about whether she gets to stay.
Kenshin takes a group of his men to Inako for any word about Mariko. He thinks the story the Black Clan took her seems very unlikely and very convenient. Hopefully the emperor has a vested interest in helping him figure out the truth.
Kenshin comes before the emperor. He’s surprised to see both flags flying, both royal and military (ronin), despite their falling out. Roku and Raiden, Mariko’s intended, are both there. Raiden is suspicious of the Black Clan story, too. Roku says they can’t talk about it here. They will go to a tea place in Hanami that afternoon instead.
Ranmaru questions Mariko about her past. She tells a half truth about why she left her family. He asks whether she’s enamored with the idea of love. She’s absolutely not. They visit Hanami, an ornate tea house. Mariko is amazed by the geiko girls’ grace and self-possession.
A particular geiko there (Yumi) must be the one love Ranmaru spoke of. Mariko can tell by the way he looks at her. She doesn’t even glance his way and favors Okami instead. Their familiarity must mean this is who Okami visits each day.
Mariko follows Yumi out and sees her talking to Okami in the garden. Mariko can see love written on his face as he talks to Yumi. Yumi looks conflicted as she talks to him. As she climbs to get closer to Yumi and Okami to eavesdrop, Mariko sees her brother below. She swings a lantern at Okami in effort to form a distraction. Yumi leaves to escape danger. Ranmaru comes running when he hears the ruckus. Okami begins to shake and change in form. Mariko rescues Kenshin just as Okami tries to attack.
Okami says it’s time for the truth. Mariko will only give her truth in exchange for his. She follows Okami to an old woman’s house to delivering money. Mariko discovers the Clan takes care of this woman and the children in her care.
Kenshin discusses the attack with Roku and Raiden. They feel like the attackers were lying in wait. Kenshin doesn’t say much because he doesn’t know if he can trust them.
Ranmaru allows Mariko a private bath as reward for her help in the fight in Inako. Okami appears at the spring wanting to take a bath, too. They question each other about what happened at Hanami. Okami reveals a couple things: his disdain for her family, especially her power-hungry father, and the fact that Yumi is his sister.
Okami tells Ranmaru his suspicions that Lackbeard is an enemy spy. Ranmaru doesn’t agree. He knows he has to give trust to get it. Okami wants to continue to confirm as he closely watches for signs to prove his spy suspicions.
Kenshin decides there’s nothing else left for him to do and nothing to discover in Inako. As he prepares to leave, Roku comes to talk to him. He believes the Black Clan was the group who attacked Mariko’s convoy, not because of a vendetta against Kenshin’s family but one against his own. His father was the one who executed Ranmaru’s father, but his father never should have let the boy live. He reveals Ranmaru is now the leader of the Clan.
The emperor watches this discussion from afar and thinks about how the plans have now been set in motion. Kanako is beside him. She possesses a magic ring of some sort.
Mariko finds fox glove plants as she’s looking for mushrooms for the Clan. She climbs to pick a few and falls. Okami sees her fall and rescues her. When Mariko wakes up, Okami is over hovering over her. Her tunic has split. The bindings on her breasts are hanging out. She doesn’t know what to do, so she gives into the strange impulse that’s been plaguing her and kisses Okami. They make out. He agrees to keep her secret for now. He asks her real name and can tell she’s lying when she supplies a fake female one. Mariko decides she’s going to use the relationship to her advantage. She tries to get information from him by asking why he isn’t the leader of the Clan even though he has tremendous magical power. He doesn’t take the bait. He just says he doesn’t want to lead.
The next day, Ranmaru asks Okami to give Lackbeard lessons on sword wielding. Okami doesn’t have to fight with blades in battles and thus doesn’t practice very often. Ranmaru thinks this is all the more reason for them to practice together. Their attraction continues to blossom as they parry.
Kenshin awakes with blood on his hands and no knowledge of what happened. A grey fox with golden eyes watches from the shadows.
The Clan finally lets Mariko ride to the watering hole with the group. She and Okami ride ahead of the group and are the first two on the horrific scene. A young boy and girl are murdered. The old man they know was stabbed in the stomach and is near death. He tells them to look for the Dragon of Kai. He dies.
Mariko works on a smoke shield to conceal an entrance or exit. She’ll add fox glove for a sedative effect but leaves this part out and takes the fox-glove free bombs to Ranmaru. He’s proud of her creation and wants her to work with Ren and Yoshi to make more. She wants to work alone. Ranmaru finally agrees but wants to at least gather the supplies for her. Okami overhears her ticking off the ingredients. He adds fox glove to the list since he assumes that’s why she was climbing to pick it.
Ranmaru asks Mariko to make fifty smoke shields in the next five days. If she can get them done in time, he’ll allow her to accompany her on their next mission: attacking the Hattori clan for what Kenshin did.
On their journey to Hattori land, Ranmaru tells Mariko how they re-distribute wealth. Ranmaru says the Hattori daimyo (her father) has been robbing from his people by taking more than his fair share of their crops. Many of the nobility do it. They learned it from their emperor. So the Clan steals from the rich to give to the poor. When she balks at this, Ranmaru sends her with Okami to see it for herself. She’s shocked to see the hunger her father’s people endure despite their hard work and ample crops.
Mariko pays an old man to give a short warning about the coming attack to her brother.
Okami tells Mariko she doesn’t have to fight. She chooses to go with them. She feels torn as the battle starts. These men she has grown to respect versus her family and their people. A fight ensues. Mariko throws a smoke shield. One of the buildings catches on fire. The peasant girl Kenshin loves dies in the blaze. Kenshin thinks he recognizes Mariko among the Clan men for a split second. Okami is in his animal form and sees the recognition on Kenshin’s face and knows what it must mean. He gets physically sick when he thinks about it.
Mariko and Ren are both injured. Two Clan men die. Mariko awakes in a beautiful room in Hanami with her hands bandaged. Okami knocked her out with medicine and brought her to his sister Yumi. He tells her he knows her true identity. He says he had heard she was attacked and killed but the intel must’ve been wrong. She accuses the Clan of trying to kill her. It’s not true. He tells her the last thing he can do for her is leave her here to heal. He’s going to tell the Clan the truth about her. If they ever see her in the forest again, they’ll kill her.
Kenshin mourns his love’s death and is dumbfounded when his father acts like he can make things right by offering her father a little money. Kenshin vows to kill all the members of the Black Clan.
Mariko and Yumi discuss what it’s like to be a girl in this world and how they can possess power in spite of it. Yumi receives a message. Kenshin is marching on the Clan to destroy them for the sake of his sister. Okami never told Yumi the Clan’s location to keep her safe. Mariko doesn’t know it either. But she’s willing to try to find them to warn them about the coming attack. She asks Yumi to make her look like a girl to do so.
Mariko wanders the forest in the general direction of the Clan and hopes to happen upon them. Dusk falls. She sees two yellow eyes in the forest (the same animal who saw she was safe after the attack on her convoy) just before she comes upon the Clan. She realizes the fox is Ranmaru. The eyes that belong to the fox fade to his at the end of his transition back to the man. He has known she was a woman all along!
They allow her to take the oath and join the Clan. It’s the first time Mariko has felt wanted for her skills and the first time she has wanted to belong to anything. She’s confused at first as to why she can’t sleep that night. She realizes it’s because Okami’s the only one who didn’t say anything to her after the ceremony. Okami comes to her tent in the middle of the night. He says he’ll just ask one time whether he can come in. Of course she allows it. They spend the night together.
Mariko discovers Ranmaru’s purpose is to reinstate the simultaneous ronin rule, of which he should be chief.
Konako despises the empress because she treats her son Raiden wrong. She’s kept the emperor enthralled for nineteen years because of her bewitching skills. She calls Nobutada to her. She asks him to follow the fox in the forest to find the Dragon of Kai. She asks him to find the leader of the Black Clan and find a way to control him. He seems conflicted but bows to her when she says it’s what the emperor wants. She has a way to control the Dragon if need be. In the white oak, she has a young woman held in an enchanted sleep. Half her face is badly burned.
How did Flame in the Mist end?
Mariko’s upset she has to cook alongside Yoshi instead of do the “real work.” Yoshi calls Okami to scold her about her complaining, but he knows better. An arrow whistles by, alerting them armed intruders are approaching. It’s Kenshin, Raiden, and a garrison of men. They threaten the Clan unless they turn Mariko over. Kenshin calls for Mariko. She hides at first but eventually comes out to turn herself in to save the men she loves. This isn’t enough for Raiden. Then Okami reveals a truth about himself: he’s actually Ranmaru and his best friend has been posing as him all these years as penance for his father killing Okami’s. He then surrenders. Raiden agrees to retreat with both of them.
Kenshin offers to take Mariko home. She says there’s nothing there for her. She wants to go to Inako. She asks to marry Raiden if he’ll still have her.
The emperor calls his wife Genmei to tea. He hasn’t made an offer like this in years, so she accepts. He wants to make amends and try to be better to show their son a better way. She agrees their son needs a better example but has secretly poisoned his tea. He succumbs to the poison when they head outside. She begins screaming as soon as the effects set in to draw attention to his fate. A swallow flying overhead watches him die and then flies away from the scene.
There you go! That’s what happened in Flame in the Mist, the first book in this series.
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