No spoilers in this rapid review of Flame in the Mist. I give it 4.25 stars. Renee Ahdieh has a way with words. I discovered this first in The Wrath and the Dawn and rediscovered it with this lovely book. Both Ahdieh and Marissa Meyer have turned YA fairy tale retellings into an art form, one I really enjoy. This retelling covers a legend with which I was unfamiliar: Mulan. I haven’t even watched the Disney movie! Thus after I finished Flame in the Mist, I searched for information to see how the book compares to the legend. Read more about that below.
This story centers around Mariko, a girl who has always felt like her world revolves around the whims of men and who longs to rebel against this patriarchal culture. Yet her father has arranged for her to marry the emperor’s illegitimate son. While she’ll never be empress since the legitimate son will be the one to rule, the marriage will elevate her family’s name and put her father in a position of greater power among the nobility.
On the way to meet her future husband, Mariko’s convoy is attacked. She alone escapes, and she vows to use her sudden freedom to discover who attacked her and why. Mariko poses as a man and soon infiltrates the clan she suspects orchestrated the attack. She learns valuable lessons about this clan, the whole empire, and most importantly herself as she lives among the men in this group.
As far as I can tell, Ahdieh’s version of the story takes quite a departure from the legend of Hua Mulan. The theme is consistent: Her lead character poses as a man to infiltrate a group of warriors in effort to help her family. The situations and details she uses to expand on this main idea are quite different than the legend but are logical and enjoyable.
What did I enjoy? I love reading books and watching movies about ancient China. Their customs, code of honor, and fighting methods fascinate me. And I’m always fond of empowering stories about young women who challenge themselves to go above and beyond what the world expects from them. And perhaps my favorite thing of all was the surprise Ahdieh dealt me near the end of the book. You’ll know it when you get to it! 😉
I definitely recommend this book! Ahdieh has taken another classic tale and spun it into something different and delightful. She even included a couple magical elements which aren’t yet fully explained. I always love a touch of magic! There is plenty to explore and to resolve in book 2, Smoke in the Sun. It’s due out May 1, 2018, and I can’t wait to read it! 🙂
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