Release Date: Thursday 18th May 2017
I believe the stars align so that souls can find one another.
Disclaimer: I had received a review copy of Flame In The Mist, with the approval of the publisher Hodder & Stoughton, in exchange of an honest review.
Hattori Mariko has always known that being a woman means she has no control over her own fate. As the daughter of a prominent samurai, and an alchemist in her own right, Mariko refuses to be ignored. While travelling through the Jukai Forest on her way to a political marriage to the emperor’s son, Mariko is ambushed by a group of bandits known as the Black Clan. Mariko disguises herself as a peasant boy as she takes matters into her own hands, hunt down the Black Clan and find the person who wants her dead.
Flame In The Mist by Renée Ahdieh is an inspiring novel that struck me deeply. It is hard not to fall in love with Renée’s poetic writing style; there are so many lines in the book which are motivating and inspirational: ideas are the seeds of possibilities. To be frank with you, this novel gave me the kick I needed to remind me of my dreams, and I have Hattori Mariko and Renée Ahdieh to thank for that.
Renée combines Japanese mythology, samurai, cross-dressing, female warriors, and secrets and lies, to create this delicious recipe. While told mostly in Mariko’s point of view, the story is also told from the perspective of her brother Hattori Kenshin.
While Mariko’s world is highly patriarchal, it is interesting how Kenshin, the Dragon of Kai and the next in line, cannot have everything he wants and must abide by a set of rules. A relationship with Amaya is forbidden as she is the daughter of Muramasa Sengo a celebrated artisan who makes and polishes weapon. Not only is this society strongly patriarchal, but there is also a vast segregation between the two social classes. As ‘the next in line’ Kenshin seems to have been raised to put his own desires aside and obey his father. Mariko knows her clan as loved by people and feared by enemies, she was bot exposed to harsh reality until her ambush and freedom.
Mariko is a fearless character who is well ahead of women of her time. She lives in a strongly patriarchal world, where women only have a position as someone’s wife. Mariko does not wait to be rescued like a typical damsel in distress and musters the courage to seek answers and hunt down the Black Clan. Keeping her courage intact, Mariko constantly reminds herself, “a warrior is never weak.” The fact that Mariko sees herself as a warrior and not someone who is bound to a political marriage. Throughout Flame In The Mist, Mariko is determined to prove herself worthy beyond the ‘marriage market’ this in itself seals her position as a fearless female protagonist.
Of course, as a woman is perceived as incapable of surviving outside the confines of the four walls she calls her home, Hattori Mariko cross-dresses as a peasant boy, Sanada Takeo. Mariko’s disguise into a peasant boy, reminds me very much of the Disney animated film, Mulan (1998). That whole concept of needing answers and going after the bad guys reminds me of Mulan. Both Mariko and Mulan have this warrior spirit, and both cross-dress to be moulded into fine warriors. The cross-dressing also appears to be a metaphor for Mariko now having to be the man, to think like a woman and act like a man.
Overall, Flame and the Mist is a delightful story oozing with Japanese mythology. I found Mariko an inspirational, and fearless, character that I connected to instantly. Flame In The Mist heightened my love for, and desire to visit Japan. Admittedly, I have not read a novel set in Japan before, neither have I read a book by a Japanese author. I would love to read more like this, so if you have any recommendations of books set in Japan or any Japanese authors, please comment below or tweet me on twitter, @RRGanger.