Hello, this is a combination of the reviews for Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh. Wrote these a few years ago and decided to bring them back. Most of my thoughts still hold but there will be some changes. Enjoy the duology review!
Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Published May 16th 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Mulan Retelling
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.
Renée Ahdieh has a way to make me fall in love with her writing and her stories. I can’t help but immerse myself into her beautiful and outstanding writing once again in Flame in the Mist as I did with The Wrath and The Dawn duology. The beautiful descriptions of the places, people, and situations just constantly pulled me back into the story. I couldn’t put Flame in the Mist down.
All the Japanese culture that was woven into the plot was simply brilliant, it made my wanderlust a little more tangible. It felt as if I was with the characters in each setting. As usual, it took me a while to get used to all the Japanese references but the glossary was there for me to peruse.
Not a damsel in distress, Mariko is courageous and smart. She stands her ground whenever she believes she’s right and does her best to survive. Though I did enjoy the romance between Mariko and her love interest was entertaining, I wasn’t incredibly invested. The chemistry came up quite suddenly and it felt unnatural. Despite that, I liked her love interest individually. He’s cloaked in enigma and readers get to unravel his story as Mariko gets to know him.
Before you proceed below, make sure you’ve already read Flame in the Mist unless you want to be spoiled. You’ve been warned!
Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #2
Published June 5th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Mulan Retelling
For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.
Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.
As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.
Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.
With everything going downhill for Ōkami and Mariko, she just wanted to make things right again. But how? Not only was she surrounded by people who wanted Ōkami dead, but Mariko was also to marry a man she doesn’t love.
The moment I started reading, it was a blur. Probably spent the first few chapters trying to remember who was who, and how the characters were related to one another. Also, I didn’t anticipate how slow the book was going to be. Sometimes I had to pick a fast-paced book up in case I feel the urge to DNF Smoke in the Sun.
Since it was a while since I’ve read Flame in the Mist, I only vaguely recalled the characters that had more critical roles. Mariko was the main focus in Smoke in the Sun. With her marriage to Raiden nearing and Ōkami locked up, she had to play the game of politics to save the man she loves and survive. Her perseverance, fierceness, and stubbornness shone through. Her determination to bluff everyone else into believing that she’s a weak girl who was kidnapped and forced to work for the Black Clan was somewhat spot on.
But ingenuity could be a weapon, in all its forms. Her mind could be a sword. Her voice could be an axe.
Her fury could ignite a fire.
Despite Raiden being the older brother, Roku ascended to the throne. Raiden responds to his beck and call because he faithfully believes that Roku has what it takes to rule. He brushes off every malicious and villainous move Roku made because he refused to see what kind of person his younger brother is. It was fascinating to see the dynamics change between Raiden and Roku. From the blind, fierce loyalty to something entirely different.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that I loved Renée Ahdieh’s writing. She effortlessly described the place, the people, and the action while weaving in all the Japanese terms. Although it doesn’t hold a candle to her The Wrath and The Dawn duology which I will rant and rave for the rest of my life, I still enjoyed the rich fantasy world and Renée Ahdieh’s captivating words.
Overall, I don’t love nor hate the book. I wished the magic system was explained more. I’d love to know where they find these demons that were willing to trade for magic and what other magic are there. Another thing is, there seemed to be little development of side characters. Yumi is a character that I’m intrigued to know more about. She has a strong will and a desire to prove herself to her brother but I didn’t exactly see that happening. The Black Clan were kind of missing in action as well. It would be interesting if we could’ve witnessed their planning to save their leader.
“Ours is a love stronger than fear and deeper than the sea,” he said softly.