YA Weekend Audio: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Flame in the Mist

Publisher: Listening Library (May 16, 2017)

Length: 10 hrs and 19 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Nancy Wu

On the surface, Flame in the Mist seemed like it had everything I ever wanted: a delectable premise complete with complex world-building featuring a setting inspired by Feudal Japan, as well as solid protagonists including a crossdressing heroine at its center who has even been compared to Mulan, the warrior woman from Chinese legend. And indeed, I wanted badly to love this book, but on deeper reflection, I feel it may have missed the mark here.

Mariko is the daughter of a samurai, fated to be a bartered off in a political marriage while her twin brother Kenshin, already a renowned warrior in his own right, will be the one to take up their father’s mantle. At seventeen years old, she is arranged to be married to the Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort, and is packed off along with a full convoy to accompany her to the imperial city of Inako. On the way there, however, their wagon train is attacked by a group of bandits known as the Black Clan, and only by sheer luck does Mariko manage to escape the bloody massacre. With everyone thinking she is dead, for the first time in her life Mariko can finally take control of her own destiny. She learns that someone had hired the bandits to ambush and kill her before she can reach the palace, and now she’s determined to find out who.

Donning the disguise of a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan. But as she soon discovers, a life of banditry isn’t easy. The head of the gang, a wandering ronin named Takeda Ranmaru is a skilled fighter with a sharp mind who keeps a tight watch on his men, and his second-in-command is his best friend named Okami who is extremely loyal to his leader. Gradually though, Mariko gains their trust, allowing her a glimpse into the inner workings of the Black Clan as well as the dark history which led to the friendship between the two young men. Meanwhile, her brother Kenshin is also hot on Mariko’s trail, believing her to be still alive. In his persistence to track her down, he does not realize that his actions are threatening to expose Mariko and bring down everything she has planned.

To be clear, I did not think Flame in the Mist was a bad book. There were, however, a couple things that really bothered me. First was the character of Mariko, who was less than impressive, to say the least, considering how her much vaunted intelligence and cunning did not manifest. It actually pains me to see her character compared to Mulan, because Mulan was capable and did everything for the love of family, while Mariko was ineffective and was driven by her own pride and hubris. I think what nettled me the most was the fact we were constantly beaten over the head with how smart she was, or how she was always able to best her opponents because of her astounding talent for reading people and so on and so forth. This is exactly why authors should always try to show and not tell, not least because you want to avoid looking foolish when what you are telling is nowhere close to what is being shown. When I looked at Mariko, I saw a girl who wore all her emotions on her sleeve, who would turn into a tongue-tied idiot every time she was caught off guard (which happened a lot), and who couldn’t lie convincingly if her life depended on it. She would have been killed many times over if the leaders of the Black Clan had not inexplicably given her a pass for all her missteps and transgressions, and I simply could not be persuaded to believe Mariko could have made it as far as she did by means of her own limited judgement and insight.

Then there was the romance, which had all the poise and finesse of a reluctant skydiver being shoved out of plane. Too many YA reads are ruined for me these days because of poorly timed romantic developments, and you can add Flame in the Mist to that growing list. It felt too forced and rushed, not to mention the fact that Mariko’s choice of love interest also ended up projecting some major developments in the ending. If I could describe the romance here in one word, it would be: Hokey. The whole thing smacked of clichés, and sadly these hate-to-love stories have become so overdone and familiar in YA nowadays that if you’re not going to be adding anything new, I’m afraid I’m just not that interested.

Finally, while I was prepping for this review, I went back to look at my notes for The Wrath and the Dawn and couldn’t help but notice that a lot of my issues with the author’s writing have cropped up again in Flame in the Mist. I can’t really put my finger on it, but something about Renée Ahdieh’s writing still strikes me as trying too hard. For one thing, she seems overly fond of her flowery descriptions and overwrought metaphors, and while I was more forgiving of the purple prose in her debut, I guess I’m just a little less willing to overlook it now.

Despite my criticisms though, this book was a decent enough read, even with all its flaws. It is merely a disappointment because of its capitulation to convention and personally it’s a letdown whenever a protagonist fails to meet her full potential. But if you’re looking for a standard YA read to pass the time, Flame in the Mist is perfectly up to the task. I’ll put the sequel on my “might read” list for now, even though I’m pretty sure I know how things will play out.

Audiobook Comments: The audiobook didn’t work too well for me this time around, though it is through no fault of the narrator, Nancy Wu. She gave a great performance, and I enjoyed her narration here as much as I have enjoyed her narration in the past for other audiobooks like Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. As I believe I’ve mentioned before though, the audio format makes purple prose a lot more obvious, and the distraction kept me from fully enjoying the listen.

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29 Comments on “YA Weekend Audio: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

  1. What a pity that such a good premise was spoiled by sloppy writing! The background is quite an unusual one for a fantasy novel, so it’s sad to see it used as a mere prop for the usual cliché parade you can find in YA literature – starting with the “tell, don’t show” capital sin. Once again I’m wondering what possesses YA authors to keep walking the same, old, tired paths instead of showing a little courage and abandoning them…
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Other people have already said this but I love the phrase “the poise and finesse of a reluctant skydiver being shoved out of plane.” I actually laughed when I read that! It’s too accurate to how so many books develop their romance plot lines.

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  3. The Wrath and The Dawn duology was guilty pleasure read for me, it was full of flaws but I enjoyed it a lot so I will definitely read this book, I won’t go in with a ton of expectations but I am definitely intrigued by it. As for the romance, sadly lots of YA novels have the same flaws, her previous series contained quite a bit of “insta-love” and clichés but for some reasons, it didn’t annoyed as much as usual! 😛

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    • Yeah, I noticed the “Hate-to-love insta-romance” here was similar to the one in her other series. That might have been part of my frustration too, the fact so many of her ideas felt recycled but presented in another package.

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  4. Fantastic review! I’ve been very curious about this one and it’s a bit frustrating that this is falling into the usual YA fantasy romance trap. YA books have all become so similar to one another… 😦

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  5. I didn’t really care for the sequel to The Wrath & The Dawn, so I wasn’t all that keen on picking up Ahdieh’s new book. Sounds like I made the right call, because all of the things that disappointed or frustrated you would have likely done the same for me. :/

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    • I wasn’t jumping to read the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn either, as evidenced by the fact that I still haven’t read it. I don’t know if I ever will now. With the same mistakes from TWatD repeated in Flame in the Mist, I can’t imagine them not being in The Rose and the Dagger as well. I’ll save myself the frustration 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Drat! I had high hopes for this one, as Mulan is my favorite Disney movie! But the preview in Buzzbooks didn’t strike my fancy- it seemed like it was just hitting all the stereotypically “Japanese” things, such as with the samurai death. I’m sorry to hear that Mariko didn’t turn out to deliver all she promised :/ I might try to read this, but if I find her as lackluster as your review suggests I might, then she probably won’t be my fave. I suppose the teens might still like it, but I’ve had my fill of ya “filler.”

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    • Oh yes, it was quite stereotypical in that sense. That’s the problem with mixing fantasy with “real world” elements. On some level, it’s always going to feel a bit derivative. If you’ve had enough of “filler”, I would recommend skipping this. I feel the same way these days, getting a little tired of the same old same old.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Darn, I was hoping that you enjoyed this one as much or nearly as her first series. I do tend to like purple prose but may have issues with some of the other elements you mentioned. Crossing my fingers as the book is on its way.

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  8. Oh no, what a disappointment! I also get really frustrated when what an author tells you about a character doesn’t match up with what they show you about them. Normally I’d be all over a Mulan-inspired, girl dresses as a boy book, but Mariko doesn’t sound like my kind of heroine…and a hokey romance is NOT one that I’m interested in. I still haven’t read The Wrath and the Dawn so maybe I’ll read that one instead. 🙂

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  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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