May 03, 2019

#BookReview for Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renée Ahdieh

Synopsis: The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

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About the Author:  
Renée Ahdieh is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.

Rating: 🌟
My Review: So I tried this one again for the last time and was really enjoying it.  I chose this for this weeks Epic Reads group on Facebook for the Year of Epic Reads but I have to say that getting to those 100 pages that I wrote below was great I loved the first few chapters but just like when I read this the first time around a few years ago shortly after that first chapter it all starts to fall apart.  I really wished that this would have been in nothing but Markio because I really enjoyed her part of the story. But the other characters I really just didn't care for.  So other than this above.  Everything below is what I had put the first time I tried this book and it all holds true to what I feel right now.  

BORING!!!!!! This book was both boring and confusing! And I felt like I really needed to have the glossary at the back open so I could look up all the words. You need a degree in Samurai for this one folks! 

I would not recommend this book. I mean not unless you have a background in Samurai lingo or you don't mind being confused. 

 This one did not work out for me at all. I kept trying to keep going but gave up around 100 pages. I just couldn't force myself to go any further. This book started out with such a great premise. I was not confused with the start of this book at all but shortly after the book gets really started what I found was a story blended with Japan's Samurai which ended up being very confusing. For the most part, I could have lived with not knowing what all the words were. I have seen the movie The Last Samurai like a million times so some of the words I knew what they were as well as some of the things that I had seen happen. But the story itself was very boring. It went through numerous POVs which made the book feel very choppy and that paired with the names of the characters I found it hard to keep everyone straight. By the time we got back into Markio's POV I had totally forgotten what her name was and was trying to figure out who this person was. Yes, it was that bad. 

The other issue I had which I guess this book was supposed to be a retelling of the story of Mulan at least loosely based. Was the entire bases for Markio for going off on her own. During the time after she is almost killed she talks about how her virtue will be in question because she is in the woods. But yet now she has been in the woods for 5+ days to try to find out who is trying to kill her but for some reason, that won't have the same outcome. So it was a little weird. 

I really wished that Renee would have taken the plot of Mulan and went full force with it. It would have been an amazing retelling just like her other story The Wrath in the Dawn was I couldn't put it down. This one though just didn't live up to the expectations that I had for it. Which really makes me sad because I have this as a signed copy now. 

Go Into This One Knowing: 47 Ronin meets Mulan in a very boring, far-fetched story that will make you wonder if you should get a degree in all things Samurai. 

The Beginning 

In the beginning, there were two suns and two moons. 

The boy’s sight blurred before him, seeing past the truth. Past the shame. He focused on the story his uba had told him the night before. A story of good and evil, light and dark. A story where the triumphant sun rose high above its enemies. 

On instinct, his fingers reached for the calloused warmth of his uba’s hand. The nursemaid from Kisun had been with him since before he could remember, but now—like everything else—she was gone. 

Now there was no one left. 

Against his will, the boy’s vision cleared, locking on the clear blue of the noon sky above. His fingers curled around the stiff linen of his shirtsleeves. 

Don’t look away. If they see you looking away, they will say you are weak. 

Once more, his uba’s words echoed in his ears. 

He lowered his gaze. 

The courtyard before him was draped in fluttering white, surrounded on three sides by rice-paper screens. Pennants flying the golden crest of the emperor danced in a passing breeze. To the left and right stood grim-faced onlookers— samurai dressed in the dark silks of their formal hakama

In the center of the courtyard was the boy’s father, kneel­ing on a small tatami mat covered in bleached canvas. He, too, was draped in white, his features etched in stone. Before him sat a low table with a short blade. At his side stood the man who had once been his best friend. 

The boy sought his father’s eyes. For a moment, he thought his father looked his way, but it could have been a trick of the wind. A trick of the perfumed smoke curling above the squat brass braziers. 

His father would not want to look into his son’s eyes. The boy knew this. The shame was too great. And his father would die before passing the shame of tears along to his son. 

The drums began to pound out a slow beat. A dirge. 

In the distance beyond the gates, the boy caught the muf­fled sound of small children laughing and playing. They were soon silenced by a terse shout. 

Without hesitation, his father loosened the knot from around his waist and pushed open his white robe, exposing the skin of his stomach and chest. Then he tucked his sleeves beneath his knees to prevent himself from falling backward. 

For even a disgraced samurai should die well. 

The boy watched his father reach for the short tantō blade on the small table before him. He wanted to cry for him to stop. Cry for a moment more. A single look more.

Just one.

But the boy remained silent, his fingers turning bloodless in his fists. He swallowed.

Don’t look away.

His father took hold of the blade, wrapping his hands around the skein of white silk near its base. He plunged the sword into his stomach, cutting slowly to the left, then up to the right. His features remained passive. No hint of suffering could be detected, though the boy searched for it—felt it—despite his father’s best efforts.

Never look away.

Finally, when his father stretched his neck forward, the boy saw it. A small flicker, a grimace. In the same instant, the boy’s heart shuddered in his chest. A hot burst of pain glimmered beneath it.

The man who had been his father’s best friend took two long strides, then swung a gleaming katana in a perfect arc toward his father’s exposed neck. The thud of his father’s head hitting the tatami mat silenced the drumbeats in a hol­low start.

Still the boy did not look away. He watched the crimson spurt from his father’s folded body, past the edge of the mat and onto the grey stones beyond. The tang of the fresh blood caught in his nose—warm metal and sea salt. He waited until his father’s body was carried in one direction, his head in another, to be displayed as a warning. 

No hint of treason would be tolerated. Not even a whisper. 

All the while, no one came to the boy’s side. No one dared to look him in the eye. 

The burden of shame took shape in the boy’s chest, heavier than any weight he could ever bear. 

When the boy finally turned to leave the empty court­yard, his eyes fell upon the creaking door nearby. A nurse­maid met his unflinching stare, one hand sliding off the latch, the other clenched around two toy swords. Her skin flushed pink for an instant. 

Never look away. 

The nursemaid dropped her eyes in discomfort. The boy watched as she quickly ushered a boy and a girl through the wooden gate. They were a few years younger than he and obvi­ously from a wealthy family. Perhaps the children of one of the samurai in attendance today. The younger boy straight­ened the fine silk of his kimono collar and darted past his nursemaid, never once pausing to acknowledge the presence of a traitor’s son. 

The girl, however, stopped. She looked straight at him, her pert features in constant motion. Rubbing her nose with the heel of one hand, she blinked, letting her eyes run the length of him before pausing on his face. 

He held her gaze. 

“Mariko-sama!” the nursemaid scolded. She whispered in the girl’s ear, then tugged her away by the elbow. 

Still the girl’s eyes did not waver. Even when she passed the pool of blood darkening the stones. Even when her eyes narrowed in understanding.

The boy was grateful he saw no sympathy in her expres­sion. Instead the girl continued studying him until her nurse­maid urged her around the corner.

His gaze returned to the sky, his chin in high disregard of his tears.

In the beginning, there were two suns and two moons.

One day, the victorious son would rise—

And set fire to all his father’s enemies. 

Illusions and Expectations 
Ten Years Later 

On the surface everything seemed right. 

An elegant litter. A dutiful daughter. An honor bestowed. 

Then, as if to taunt her, Mariko’s litter lurched, jouncing her shoulder into the norimono’s side. Its raised mother-of-pearl inlays would undoubtedly leave a bruise. Mariko took a deep breath, stifling the urge to grumble in the shadows like an angry crone. The smell of the norimono’s varnish filled her head, bringing to mind the Dragon’s Beard candy she favored as a child. 

Her dark, sickly sweet coffin, bearing her to her final rest­ing place. 

Mariko sank farther into the cushions. Nothing about the journey to the imperial city of Inako had gone well. Her con­voy had left later than intended and stopped all too often. At least now—by the way the norimono listed forward—Mariko could tell they were traveling down an incline. Which meant they’d moved past the hills around the valley, more than half­way to Inako. She leaned back, hoping her weight would help balance the burden.

Just as she settled in, the litter halted suddenly.

Mariko raised the silk screen covering the small window to her right. Dusk was starting to descend. The forest before them was shrouded in mist, its trees a jagged silhouette across a silver sky.

As Mariko turned to address the nearby soldier, a young maidservant came stumbling into view. “My lady!” the girl gasped, righting herself against the norimono’s side. “You must be famished. I’ve been remiss. Please forgive me for neglecting to—”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Chiyo-chan.” Mariko smiled kindly, but the girl’s eyes remained wide with worry. “It was not I who halted the convoy.”

Chiyo bowed low, the flowers of her makeshift hairpiece falling askew. When she stood once more, the maidservant passed along a neatly wrapped bundle of food to Mariko. Then Chiyo moved back to her post beside the litter, pausing only to return Mariko’s warm smile.

“Why have we stopped?” Mariko asked the nearby mem­ber of the ashigaru.

The foot soldier wiped the perspiration from his brow, then switched the long pole of his naginata to his other hand. Traces of sunlight glinted off its sharp blade. “The forest.” 

Mariko waited, certain that could not be the extent of his explanation. 

Beads of sweat gathered above the soldier’s lips. He opened his mouth to speak, but the clatter of approaching hooves stole his attention. 

“Lady Hattori . . .” Nobutada, one of her father’s con­fidants and his most trusted samurai, reined in his charger beside Mariko’s norimono. “I apologize for the delay, but several of the soldiers have voiced concerns about traveling through Jukai forest.” 

Mariko blinked twice, her features thoughtful. “Is there a particular reason?” 

“Now that the sun has set, they fear the yōkai, and they worry—” 

“Silly stories of monsters in the dark.” She waved a dis­missive hand. “Nothing more.” 

Nobutada paused, doubtlessly taking note of her interrup­tion. “They also claim the Black Clan has been seen near here recently.” 

“They claim?” A dark eyebrow curved into Mariko’s fore­head. “Or they’ve sighted them in truth?” 

“They are merely claims.” Nobutada lowered the chin guard beneath his horned helmet. “Though it would be un­usual for the Black Clan to rob us, as they do not generally attack convoys containing women and children. Especially those guarded by samurai.” 

Mariko lingered in consideration. “I defer to your opinion, Nobutada-sama.” Recalling the foot soldier from a moment ago, she attempted a smile. “And please see that the ashigaru have time to rest and take in water soon, as they appear overtired.”

Nobutada scowled at her last request. “If we are forced to go around Jukai forest, it will add a full day to our journey.”

“Then it will add a full day to our journey.” She was already beginning to lower her screen, the awkward smile still pasted across her face.

“I’d rather not risk angering the emperor.”

“Then it is an easy choice. We must lead so that others may follow, Nobutada-sama. You taught me that, even as a young girl.” Mariko did not look away as she spoke. Nor did she attempt to apologize for the sharpness of her retort.

His scowl deepened. Mariko smothered a sigh. She knew she was being difficult. Knew Nobutada wished for her to make a decision. At the very least, wished for her to offer an opinion.

To make a useless play at control. A play Nobutada could then smugly subvert, as her elder.

As a man.

Try as she might, Mariko could not help the resentment simmering beneath the surface.

Control is an illusion. Expectations will not rule my days.

Not anymore.

“Perhaps not easy,” Mariko amended, her fingers toying with the edge of the screen. “But it is simple.” She softened her tone—a pitiful attempt to mollify him. One that was sure to chafe, as her contrary nature so often did. Her brother, Kenshin, frequently gave her grief about it. Frequently told her to be less . . . peculiar. 

To conform, at least in these small ways. 

Mariko dipped her head in a bow. “In any case, I defer to your wise judgment, Nobutada-sama.” 

A shadow fell across his features. “Very well, Lady Hattori. We shall proceed through Jukai forest.” With that, he urged his charger back toward the head of the convoy. 

As expected, Mariko had irritated him. She’d offered no real opinion on anything since they’d left her family’s home that morning. And Nobutada wanted her to play at directing him. To give him tasks befitting such a vaunted role. 

Tasks befitting the samurai in charge of delivering a royal bride. 

Mariko supposed she should care she might be arriving at Heian Castle late. 

Late to meet the emperor. Late to meet his second son— 

Her future husband. 

But Mariko did not care. Ever since the afternoon her father had informed her that Emperor Minamoto Masaru had made an offer of marriage on behalf of his son Raiden, she’d truly not cared about much. 

Mariko was to be the wife of Prince Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort. A political marriage that would elevate her father’s standing amongst the ruling daimyō class. 

She should care that she was being exchanged like prop­erty in order to curry favor. But Mariko did not. 

Not anymore. 

As the norimono lurched forward again, Mariko reached above to adjust the slender tortoiseshell bar speared through her thick coils of hair. Tiny strips of silver and jade dangled from its ends, snarling with one another in a ceaseless war. After Mariko finished sorting them into place, her hand fell to the smaller jade bar below.

Her mother’s face took shape in her mind—the look of determined resignation she had worn as she slid the jade orna­ment into her only daughter’s hair.

A parting gift. But not a true source of comfort.

Just like her father’s final words:

Be a tribute to your family, Mariko-chan. As you were raised to be. Forswear your childish wishes. Be more than . . . this.

Mariko’s lips pressed tight.

It doesn’t matter. I’ve already taken my revenge.

There was no reason for Mariko to dwell on these things anymore. Her life was on a clear path now. Never mind that it was not what she wanted. Never mind that there was so much left to see and learn and do. She’d been raised for a purpose. A foolish one at that—to be the wife of an important man when she could easily have been something else. Something more. But it did not matter. She was not a boy. And—despite being barely seventeen—Hattori Mariko knew her place in life. She would marry Minamoto Raiden. Her parents would have the prestige of a daughter in Heian Castle.

And Mariko would be the only one to know the stain on that honor.

As dusk fell and the convoy made its way deeper into the forest, the scent of warm, wet air took on a life of its own. It mixed with the iron of the earth and the green of newly trod leaves. A strange, heady perfume. Sharp and fresh, yet soft and sinister all at once. 

Mariko shuddered, a chill taking root in her bones. The horses around the norimono whickered as if in response to an unseen threat. Seeking a distraction, Mariko reached for the small parcel of food Chiyo had given her, staving off the chill by burrowing into her cushions. 

Perhaps we should have gone around Jukai forest. 

She quickly dismissed these doubts, then turned her atten­tion to the parcel in her hands. Within it were two rice balls covered in black sesame seeds, along with pickled sour plums wrapped in lotus leaves. After unfolding her meal, Mariko shifted her fingers to light the tiny folded-paper lantern sway­ing above. 

It had been one of her earliest inventions. Small enough to hide in a kimono sleeve. A special slow-burning wick, suspended by the thinnest of wires. The wick was fashioned from cotton braided with river reeds dipped in wax. It kept its shape despite its size, all while burning a steady light. Mariko had made it as a child. In the heavy dark of night, this tiny invention had been her savior. She’d placed it beside her blankets, where it cast a warm, cheery glow by which she’d penned her newest ideas. 

Smiling in remembrance, Mariko began to eat. A few black sesame seeds fell onto the painted silk of her kimono; she brushed them aside. The fabric felt like water at her fin­gertips. The color of sweetened cream, its hem bled through with darkest indigo. Pale pink cherry blossoms crowded the long sleeves, unfurling into branches near Mariko’s feet.

A priceless kimono. Made of rare tatsumura silk. One of the many gifts sent to her by the emperor’s son. It was beauti­ful. More beautiful than anything Mariko had ever owned in her life.

Perhaps a girl who prized such things would be pleased.

When more sesame seeds fell onto the silk, Mariko didn’t bother brushing them away. She finished eating in silence, watching the tiny lantern sway to and fro.

The gathering of shadows shifted outside, growing closer and tighter. Mariko’s convoy was now deep beneath a canopy of trees. Deep beneath their cloak of sighing branches and whispering leaves. Strange that she heard no signs of life out­side—not the caw of a raven nor the cry of an owl nor the chirr of an insect.

Then the norimono halted again. All too abruptly.

The horses began to pant. Began to stamp their hooves in the leafy earth.

Mariko heard a shout. Her litter teetered. Overcorrected. Only to strike the ground with a vicious thud. Her head smacked against varnished wood, throwing stars across her vision.

And Mariko was swallowed into a void. 

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