Want it by Thursday, October 18?
Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.
Same Day shipping in Manhattan. See Details
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn, comes a sweeping, action-packed YA adventure set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan where Mulan meets Throne of Glass.
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track 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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Mariko woke to the smell of smoke. To a dull roar in her ears.
To shooting pain in her arm.
She was still in her litter, but it had toppled to one side, its contents smashed into a corner.
The body of a familiar maidservant lay across her. Chiyo, who had loved to eat iced persimmons and arrange moonflowers in her hair. Chiyo, whose eyes had always been so open and wide and honest.
The same eyes that were now frozen in Death’s final mask.
Mariko’s throat burned. Her sight blurred with tears.
The sounds of movement outside brought her back into focus. Her right hand pressed into a tender lump on the side of her head. She gasped into full awareness, the sound a strangled sob. Her arm pulsed sharply, even with the smallest of movements.
Mariko shook her head clear. And looked around.
From the way Chiyo was positioned across her—and from the way Mariko’s lacquered zori sandals had fallen from the maidservant’s hands—it was clear the girl had tried to free Mariko from the wrecked litter. Tried to free her and died in the attempt. Blood was everywhere. Splashed across the shining inlays. Spilling from the nasty gash in Mariko’s head. Pooling from the fatal wound in Chiyo’s heart. An arrow had pierced clean through the small girl’s breastbone; its tip dug into the skin of Mariko’s forearm, a trickle of crimson in its wake.
Several arrowheads were embedded in the wood of the norimono. Several more were fixed at odd angles across Chiyo’s body. Arrows that could not have been meant to kill a kind maidservant.
And had it not been for this kind maidservant, these arrows would undoubtedly have struck Mariko.
Mariko’s eyes brimmed with more tears as she clutched Chiyo tight.
Thank you, Chiyo- chan. Sumimasen.
Blinking away her tears, Mariko tried to shift her head. Tried to seek her bearings. The ache near her temple throbbed, keeping time with the rapid beat of her heart.
Just as Mariko began to move, a rumble of male voices drew near. She peeked through a break in the mangled screen above. All she could discern were two men dressed in black from head to toe. Their weapons shone bright in the light of nearby torches, their blades oiled a sinister red.
It can’t be . . .
But the evidence was irrefutable. The Black Clan had overrun her convoy.
Mariko held her breath, wincing into the corner as they moved closer to the litter.
“She’s dead, then?” the tallest one said in gruff fashion.
The masked man to the right considered the overturned litter, his head cocked to one side. “Either that or she passed out from the—”
A howl in the distance swallowed the last of their conversation.
The men eyed each other. Knowingly.
“Check once more,” the first man said. “I’d rather not be forced to report we failed in our mission.”
The second man gave a curt nod and moved toward the litter, his torch held high.
Panic took hold of Mariko. She clenched her rattling teeth still.
Two things had become clear as these masked men spoke:
The Black Clan obviously wanted Mariko dead. And someone had tasked them with killing her.
Mariko changed position, ever so slightly, as though it might conceal her from their prying gazes. As though it might shrink her into nothingness. Chiyo’s head slumped forward, thwacking against the battered wood of the norimono. Mariko bit back an oath, cursing her thoughtlessness. She inhaled through her nose, willing her heart to cease its incessant pounding.
Why did it suddenly smell so strongly of smoke?
Mariko’s eyes darted around in alarm. The edges of Chiyo’s bloodstained robe were blackening. Brushing against the crumbled wick of Mariko’s tiny lantern.
It took all her restraint to remain quiet and still.
Terror pressed in on her from all sides. Pressed her to make a final decision.
If Mariko lingered, she would be burned alive. If she moved from her hiding place, the masked men outside would undoubtedly finish their dark task.
Flames licked the hem of the maidservant’s robe, grasping for Mariko’s kimono like the tentacles of an octopus.
Her panic rising, Mariko shifted once more, stifling a cough in her shoulder.
It was time to make a decision.
How am I to die today? By fire or by the sword?
The advancing man halted a hairsbreadth away. “The litter is on fire.”
“Then let it burn.” The taller man did not flinch. Nor did he look their way.
“We should leave.” The man just outside glanced over his shoulder. “Before the scent of blood and singed flesh draws the nightbeasts.” He was near enough to touch. Near enough to strike, had Mariko the courage.
The taller man nodded. “We shall leave soon enough. But not before you check to make sure the girl is dead.”
The mournful baying grew louder. Closer. Hemming them in.
When the man nearby reached for the mangled screens, one of the norimono’s damaged poles split in two. The broken wood struck his arm, sending a flurry of sparks every which way.
Leaping back, he cursed under his breath. “The girl is as good as dead.” The man spoke more forcefully, his torch whipping about in the wind. Heat from the mounting fire sent sweat down Mariko’s neck in steady trickles. The growing blaze near her feet crackled as it seared Chiyo’s skin.
Mariko’s stomach lurched at the smell. Sweat poured onto her stiff white collar.
Make a decision, Hattori Mariko! How do you wish to die?
Her teeth chattered. With a forceful swallow, Mariko dug her fingernails into her palms, her eyes flitting about the small, shattered space. Bravery did not come to her naturally. She spent too much time weighing her options to be brave. Too much time calculating the many paths before her.
But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more.
She would not die a coward. Mariko was the daughter of a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai.
But more than that, she still held power over her decisions.
For at least this one last day.
She would face her enemy. And die with honor.
Her sight blurring from the thickening smoke, Mariko pushed Chiyo aside, her hands trembling despite her best efforts.
A shout rang out in the darkness. The man near the norimono twisted around at its cracking toll.
The cries were followed by the snarl of an animal. The growl of several more.
Another shriek. The echo of a death knell. With it came the cries of feasting animals.
“The nightbeasts!” The man with the torch pivoted again, his flame leaping with his motions. “They’re attacking our flank!”
“Check the girl,” the first man insisted. “The girl is more important than—”
“The prince’s bride is as good as dead!” With that, he threw his torch on top of Mariko’s norimono, whirling away as he sealed her fate. “Collect our fallen. Leave nothing behind,” he yelled to men she could not see.
Mariko bit back a scream as clanking metal and rustling bodies converged in the nearby shadows. Chaos grew with each passing moment. The flames in the norimono leapt higher. Faster. Their heat turned her skin pink. She clasped her fingers tight, smothering her coughs as she shrank farther into the corner. Tears streamed down her face, leaching her of all resolve.
The torch above crackled to fire against the varnished wood of the norimono.
It wouldn’t be long before Mariko would burn along with it. The lacquered tinder around her popped and fizzed, the melted resin burning into blue flame.
A shuddering breath flew past her lips.
I am not a coward. I am . . . greater than this.
Her tears stained the front of her kimono silk. She refused to die like an animal locked in a cage. Like a girl with nothing save her name.
Better to die by the sword. Better to die at the mercy of the nightbeasts.
To die in the night air. Free.
Her pulse trilling in her fingertips, Mariko shoved Chiyo’s body away in final decision. She kicked open the norimono’s door. One glossy sandal fell as she struggled to heave herself through, gulping air to quench the burn in her throat. Mariko reeled from the ruins, her eyes wild as she glanced about, frantic.
The forest was full dark.
And her kimono was on fire.
Her mind worked quickly. Instinctively. Mariko wrapped the silken material around itself, robbing the fire of the air it needed to burn. Her wrist seared beneath the kimono’s folds, smoke curling from the watered silk in grey wisps. With a rasping cry, Mariko tore at her obi, cursing the way it had been wound about her waist. So intricate. So unnecessary. Stumbling through the underbrush, she ripped the beautiful kimono from her shoulders, lurching away from the burning norimono like a drunken fool.
Her eyes sought the darkness for any beacon of light. All she could see was her litter, engulfed in flames. Her kimono smoldered against the forest floor.
If the men return, they will see the kimono. They will know I escaped.
Without hesitating, Mariko took hold of the hem and hurled the silk back at the pile of hissing flames.
It flared as it touched the melting varnish. Burning silk and scorching lacquer. Melting Dragon’s Beard candy.
Mingled with the scent of searing flesh.
She blinked hard, struggling to remain steady.
All around her were the bodies of her father’s convoy. Maidservants. Samurai. Foot soldiers.
Slaughtered as one.
Mariko stood swathed in shadow, her chest heaving as her eyes flew across the damp earth.
Anything of value had been taken. Swiftly. Efficiently. Trunks had been emptied. Imperial chargers had been yoked as chattel, leaving nothing but their tasseled reins behind. Ribbons of red and white and gold littered the ground.
But Mariko knew robbery had not been the primary objective.
The Black Clan tried to murder me. Even though they knew I was to marry Prince Raiden, they still carried out their task.
Someone with sway over the Black Clan wishes me dead.
Cold shock descended upon her in a sudden rush. Her shoulders began to wilt. Again—as if on instinct—Mariko set them straight, her chin braced against the threat of further tears. She refused to succumb to shock. Just as she refused to grant refuge to her fears.
Think, Hattori Mariko. Keep moving.
She staggered forward, intent on fleeing without a glance back. Two halting steps were all she managed before she thought better of it. Thought better about the odds of proceeding through a darkened wood, unarmed and dressed in nothing but her underclothes.
Shielding herself from the worst of the carnage, Mariko moved toward a fallen samurai. His katana was missing, but his shorter wakizashi was still in its scabbard, bound to his waist. She took the small, wieldier weapon in hand. Pausing only to kick soil across her tracks, she moved through the forest, without direction, without purpose. Without anything, save the need to survive.
The darkness around her was oppressive. She stumbled on roots, unable to see. After a time, the lack of one sense heightened all the others. The snap of a twig or the scuttle of an insect rang through the air with the resonance of a gong. When the bushes nearby rustled—steel grinding against stone—Mariko pressed into the bark of a tree, terror finally taking the last of the warmth from her blood.
A low growl crawled from the earth, cutting through her like the thunder of an approaching army. It was followed by heavy paws padding over dead leaves.
A savage sort of stealth.
A nightbeast, stalking the last of its prey.
Mariko’s stomach clenched, and her fingers shook as she prepared to meet her end.
No. I will not cower in a corner.
She scrambled away from the tree, her ankle catching on a scree of rocks. Each movement jolted through her as she landed on the forest floor, only to claw back to her feet. Her body felt alive, energy rolling beneath her skin in waves, all while her blood coursed through her body. There was nowhere to hide. The white silk of her underrobe did nothing to shield her from the forest’s most sinister monsters.
The growling behind her had become a steady grumble. Undeterred. Moving ever closer. When Mariko spun around to face her attacker, two saurian yellow eyes materialized in the darkness. Like those of a giant snake.
The creature that formed around these eyes was immense, its features resembling a jaguar, its body as massive as a bear. Without further provocation, the beast rose on its hind legs, saliva dripping from its bared fangs. It threw back its head and howled, the sound ricocheting into the night.
Her knees turned to water as Mariko fought to brace herself.
But the creature did not attack.
It looked to one side, then back at her. Its yellow eyes glowed bright. It canted its head, as though glancing past her shoulder.
Run! a voice within Mariko cried out. Run, you silly little fool!
She inhaled, taking a slow step back.
Still the beast did not attack. It glanced again to the same side, then back at her, its growl rising in pitch and ferocity.
As though it was warning her.
Then—without another sound—the beast glided toward her. Like a ghost. Like a demon of the forest, flying on a whorl of black smoke.
Mariko’s scream tore through the night sky.
The creature disappeared in a whoosh of air. In a swirl of inky darkness.
“Well.” A gruff voice resonated from behind her. “Fortune has indeed smiled upon me tonight.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow. This book is definitely on my "top 10 favorite books" shelf! Where do I start without spoiling anything?! First off, I was going into blind; I had read Renée's books before, but I wasn't sure this would meet the expectations, but boy did it blow my away! In my own opinion, this book is better than The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. Yes, ladies and gentleman. It was that good.
Wow. This book is definitely on my "top 10 favorite books" shelf! Where do I start without spoiling anything?! First off, I was going into blind; I had read Renée's books before, but I wasn't sure this would meet the expectations, but boy did it blow my away! In my own opinion, this book is better than The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. Yes, ladies and gentleman. It was that good.
Mirako is on her journey to become the bride in an arranged marriage to the younger son of her emperor when she and her company is attacked with everyone dying but her. On her own in the forest Mirako decides to investigate who had killed her retinue and ends up infiltrating their group. Of course, she can’t do this as a girl so she decides to disguise herself as a young boy and discovers the freedom a change in sex brings. Renee Ahdieh writes in a lyrical style that was totally appropriate to the time and story she was telling and rivaled the beauty of the covert art on her book. Her descriptions really gave the setting an otherworldly feel that matched an era that was royally majestic and colorful, which hid the squalor of its poor. Mirako as a girl was seen as strange and odd. While not unattractive, she was a girl who asked questions and showed intelligence in a time where girls were to be seen and not heard and femininity was prized above all else. Mirako as a boy was allowed to use her brain and in fact her intellect was rewarded. It’s no wonder that when she infiltrated the Black Clan the lines between right and wrong were blurred. She makes friends and yes, she finds love, but her duty to her family keeps clouding thoughts of what would bring her happiness. Would leaving honor and duty behind bring her joy? Those are the decisions she finds herself making in this book. This was a beautiful book to read and very easy to go all in emotionally. Who doesn’t want to root for a girl to be honored for her intellect, find true love and fight the bad guys? Right on!
I can not wait for the second book.
'Flame in the Mist' offers a firsthand look into the strength that a woman can possess, even when raised with cultural barriers blocking her way. Mariko is intelligent and cunning, things that she is looked down upon for simply because she is female. After being attacked and nearly killed, she is forced to use her wits to survive. As she hides amongst those whom she sees as her enemies, she learns things about herself and her family that she never knew, and not all are pleasant. Her character is well written and a good role model for younger women. The question of morality is constantly present, whether it be her deception of being a boy to her other lies and thievery, she constantly wonders if she is doing the right thing, leaving the reader to wonder as well. This book is a strong case for gender equality, showing stereotypes along with those who accept that women and men can be equal. 'Flame in the Mist' is a good read for those who want to read about a strong female character who is still unsure about herself, yet who lives her life her own way.
I really love Ahdieh as a writer. I will always read what she writes. Her first series The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger were riveting, and I loved her storytelling in that series. This book is unrelated to that one and can be read without knowing anything about her first duology. Something that prevents me from picking up books for such a long time is the amount of books that I want to read coming out at the same time. Literally there are too many that I’m anticipating that are released around the same time, and I can’t get to them all for a very long time. It makes me sad. ANYWAAYYYYY! I wish I had picked this book up sooner. The world building of feudal Japan, the characters, the plot; everything was heckin awesome. I was immersed into a world of intrigue and different plot lines intersecting. One thing I had a hard time with was keeping track of all of the different stories going on at the same time. Sometimes I would be reading about Okami, but I wouldn’t realize it until they said his name a few times, and even then I wasn’t 100% sure. I’m sure once we get Smoke in the Sun all of the strings will tie together and make more sense. This was a bit of a retelling of Mulan. If you didn’t know, Mulan is one of my all time favorite movies. One time I watched it instead of doing homework on a Thursday afternoon. (I got everything done eventually, don’t worry!) Ahdieh takes the basic ideas of the story and builds her own world out of them. I like that it was taken to Japan instead of staying in China. I like how Mariko fought for her freedom and chose to infiltrate the Black Clan to save herself. I like that the Black Clan was a rogue group instead of an army. There are a lot of recognizable themes with a different twist. Mariko was pretty awesome. There were times that I couldn’t stand her much, but I knew that she would get there eventually. She really comes to her own toward the end and I’m so excited to see where she goes in the second book!! The storytelling is rich and interesting. At first it was a little slow, but once I really got into it I finished it quickly. I highly recommend this book to someone looking for a different take on a classic story and a kick ass woman. Happy reading, Sophie
Renee Ahdieh has fast become one of my favourite young adult authors. Her ability to transport the reader to an entirely different place and time in history is masterful. Flame in the Mist is no exception. We are taken on a journey with Mariko through feudal Japan. As a girl and the daughter of an ambitious samurai, Marika's place is set for her. She will marry a royal son. Even before her convoy is attacked, the reader is aware of Marika's frustration with the lack of choice in her life. When she is given the gift of escaping the attack with her life, she seizes the opportunity to start a new life. But being raised with a samurai brother and father, Mariko's sense of honour run deeps. Instead of running away and claiming a life of her own, she using the opportunity to track the band of thieves who attack her and take revenge upon them. What follows is a tale filled with courage, magic, adventure, and romance. This is the start of a new series by Ahdieh. One I will be reading for sure!
Engaging read. Keeps you hooked on trying to find out answers. Well written, like the rest of her books, so far. I will differently be adding this Author to my list, to watch for any future books she releases.
When I first heard about this, it was just an untitled book by Renee Ahdieh. And then the cover happened, and I was worried that the content couldn't be anywhere as good as the cover. And then I was able to read and review it, and I'm worried that the next book won't be anywhere near the AWESOME THAT THIS BOOK HOLDS. Mariko is headed out to her betrothed when her and her entourage are ambushed. She narrowly escapes and runs into those she holds responsible. The Black Clan. Mariko sets out to exact justice on them dressed as a boy in peasant clothes. But as she gets to know more about them, it seems she gotten herself into more trouble than she bargained for. I LOVED Mariko. I wanted to add that as my review, but I didn't think that would be enough and wouldn't give you all a real look into the book lol But seriously, I loved her. She was super strong, resilient, and so smart. She was EVERYTHING a warrior was supposed to be. I also loved the other characters and loved uncovering all their secrets. And trust me, this story was covered with them. I also really loved how dark Ahdieh went for this one. There were actual war scenes and fighting and samurais and OMG. I mean her first series was dark too (I mean 1,001 nights lol) But this one just seemed MORE and I really liked that change from her. Then there was the plot. This is where my only complaint was. It felt kind of slow. I felt like it was a bit of a set up book (and when you get to the end, you will definitely understand why). But I chalked it up to being a duology, so it WAS a set up book in theory. But then there was the ending, and it made up for it. So much so, that I found myself still flipping pages trying to find the rest of the book because there just had to be MORE you know? (Also, I know I was in love with this book because normally I HATE cliffhangers, but this one was so twisted I LOVED it lol) I also loved the Japanese folklore that was found in this. Like the jubokko was super creepy, but I enjoyed learning about it so much I did further research on it. I wanted to find the folklore containing it and read more about it. In short, this book was everything I wanted and more and I can't wait to get the next book in my hands. At this point, Ahdieh is quickly turning into one of those authors that I will buy anything from, no matter what its about.
pooled ink Reviews: 4.5 Stars The first thing I’ll say is that this book did not disappoint. There was a lot of hype over this book as well as many comparisons to MULAN, both of which had me excited but annoyingly doubtful. However Mariko being a clever and inventive Asian girl disguised as a boy who is trained to survive and fight is pretty much where the Mulan comparisons end. That being said, as much as I love MULAN, I really appreciate how this book stands completely on its own, as does its protagonist, Mariko. There are similarities to be sure, but truly they are two equally epic but distinctly different stories. FLAME IN THE MIST has tinges of magic, pulses of romance, huffs of action, a current of danger, and a breath of life. Absolutely riveting, the characters and the story itself come to life turning each page faster than the last as the stakes climb higher and the secrets grow heavier. Many hidden plots dance throughout, pulling strings where none can see, only to leave you wide-eyed and yearning for the truth after turning the final page. Read my FULL review on my Wordpress site: Pooled Ink
Enthralling and inventive, Flame in the Mist will grip you with its creativity, delight you with its humor, and hold you to the end, leaving you wanting more. I absolutely loved this book! I wasn't sure what to expect when I first chose to read it for review - I knew it was "making the rounds" as a new, popular YA Fantasy but I was hesitant to pick it up. Not for any other reason than that my TBR is rather insane and I had other books I was working through...but this cover drew me in. It tricked me, luring me to give in. So I did. I am SO glad I did! From the moment I began Flame in the Mist, I was hooked. Ahdieh's writing is lyrical and beautiful. Like a song played by a skilled musician, you can't help but sit and listen--or in this case, read. And read I did. I ran through pages and pages with ease because of the story as well as the skill of the story-weaver. I was intrigued by the characters. Mariko is such a beautiful, complex character who is at once strong and weak in the best ways. Strong so that we can view her as a she truly is, and weak so that we can see her shortcomings and where growth must happen. On a note about Mariko and women in general in Flame in the Mist, I really appreciated how Ahdieh represented women in this book. None of the girls were "looking for a hero to save them" (as some even stated) and the bent was definitely toward strong, female protagonists, but not for the sake of strength alone. It was about finding the beauty and strength in being a woman, not becoming like a man to find that strength (which is slightly ironic giving the plotline). Mariko's strength was in who she was as a person, not her gender, but her gender didn't mean she was weak either. I like that both men and women were portrayed as strong in this book, working alongside one another. I won't say more about characters at this point since I don't want to give away even the smallest of spoilers, but I will say the web of intricate characters Ahdieh weaves is beautiful and complex. The setting and magic depicted in the book was also delightful. If anything, I would have loved to know and see more of the magic. I did enjoy how it was woven into the plot, but sometimes it left me wanting more or an acknowledgment of its strange nature within context. The characters just seemed to accept it without question which, without being given a reason for this acceptance, seemed strange to me. Lastly, I am a little frustrated that I didn't realize this was a series. While the ending was not exactly a cliffhanger...it kind of was. It doesn't take away from the beauty of the story or writing, nor does it diminish my love for this book, but it does make me a little annoyed that I have to wait (probably a year) before I get book 2. *sigh* I highly recommend this to lovers of YA Fantasy (or Fantasy in general). I think you'll find it enjoyable as well as intriguing. *A final word* I have heard some say that the plot is a loose retelling of the elements of Mulan into Japanese culture and, personally, I'm really enjoyed having that thought in the back of my mind because, loving the story of Mulan as I do, it made me think of that story with fondness and be able to appreciate the skill and ingenuity that Ahdieh wove her own tale. It's not exact to Mulan's story, but there are things that are similar in a good, creative way. That said, I think the Flame in the Mist is completely its own story and diverges in all the right ways. A note to my clean re
I received an ARC of this book for an honest and voluntary review. I was in no way compensated for this review. As a fan of Renee Ahdieh, this was one of my most anticipated books of the year. As always I adored her style of writing but I guess I was comparing this one to "The Wrath and the Dawn" duology, so the story left me a little deflated. The reason for this was mostly because the worldbuidling was less descriptive and overall, it more slower paced. I guess this book was based more on character development and was focused on setting up the plot as a whole. However, this does not mean that I didn't enjoy the novel. I just didn't as much as her previous work. With regards to the characters, I found the MC Mariko to be rather engaging at the beginning of the story but I didn't feel as though she developed much. She is quite an independent sort of girl who knows her own mind. I liked that she was trying to get out of the box that she had been put into. As a woman, she wanted to break ground in an area that would have actually been impossible to. However, as the story progressed, I found her to be a tad bit irritating as she constantly just focuses on herself and seems to get away with the most silliest of things. The romance, on the other hand, was more of a slow burn but I didn't really get the chemistry. Plus I felt like she used her position as a woman to manipulate things. It wasn't the epic kind of romance that I was looking for. It lacked the feels and emotions that I expected from a novel by this author. I did, however, like the aspect of friendship, honour and sibling relationship within the book. There was a lot of references to the culture, politics and such which was relevant and refreshing. I applaud the author for maintaining authenticity in this regard. I also loved how the story was set in feudal Japan. Well, since it is a loose Mulan retelling that would explain it. But it was still interesting to read the descriptions regarding that world and how the samurais lived. I also did like the fact that the book did have a smidge of magic thrown in but it's not in your face. You catch glimpses in it throughout the story. So, would I recommend reading this book? Yes, I would. But be prepared for something a little different than "The Wrath and the Dawn". That's one mistake which I made. I look forward to reading the sequel and seeing more character development. Maybe we'll also see more immersive worldbuilding because that's one element I missed out on a lot in this novel.
This book. It was perfect. I’ve been in a bit of a book slump lately because I am having a really hard time ripping myself away from watching kdramas. However, the first three-quarters of a book is pretty much a kdrama, and I am so thankful. In case any of you readers also happen to be kdrama viewers and have watched Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, I can confidently say that you will enjoy this. Alternatively, if you’ve read this but are looking for something with a similar vibe/feel/romance, check out Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. You can’t go wrong either way. Clearly we readers have high expectations after the author’s last series, but there were definitely times where I believed that I liked this one more than either of her last two books. I’d have to re-read them to know for sure, but let me just say that this is a dream of a book and I had the best time reading it. The pace was perfect, the writing was gorgeous, the backstory and plot were thrilling, and I enjoyed every moment. Instead of racing through the novel, I took my time reading it – this is rare, people. This book goes right into the story and introduces the characters right in the prologue, so there’s also no lag time getting into the plot. Flame in the Mist begins when the main character Mariko is being given away in marriage to the emperor’s son in order to give her family prestige. She, understandably, is not too happy about this, but goes along with her father’s plans anyways. However, on the way to the palace, her norimono is attacked. Everyone is killed, and Mariko only narrowly escapes. Determined to find out who was behind the attack instead of running back to her home where she’ll just be sent to the palace once more, she cuts her hair Mulan-style and disguises herself as a boy before setting out. There isn’t a single thing I disliked about this book. The romance was spot-on and pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. It’s always so fun watching the main guy and girl interact knowing that the person the guy thinks is a guy is actually a girl – it’s a romance trope sweet spot for me. Beyond that though, I love how Mariko grows into her own. She begins to figure out how she fits into life, and how to feel about the way she’s treated just because she’s a woman. She’s always hated it, but I feel like at a certain point in the novel, she actually embraces it and uses it to her advantage. Mariko is a feminist through and through, and thankfully, so is the love interest. The world-building is done really well without paragraphs of unnecessary sensory images, and honestly, I just really love the way Renée Ahdieh writes. I specifically noticed that when her characters are shocked, the way she writes that shock is literally how you think in your head – there’s the short sentences and the slight repetition, and I absolutely love it. Also, it really helps that there’s already repetition in the characters’ thoughts, so I don’t have to re-read the same sentence five times, which is what I usually do to deal with my own shock. This is a beautiful book, and the ending is ACOMAF-eque (similar to A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas), so naturally, I am so excited for the next book. Kind of like I really need Moon Lovers to be renewed for another season. We shall see. - SIMILAR KDRAMAS YOU MIGHT ENJOY: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
Will Flame in the Mist be the best fantasy novel of 2017? For me, Flame in the Mist is the epitome of YA fantasy. It has all the elements that I look for in a book, and it executes on each of those elements so exquisitely. Getting to read an ARC copy of this book was truly an honor. Thank you to Penguin Teen for granting me an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! The first thing I have to say is just WOW! This is one of those book reviews that is difficult to write, because finding the words to adequately describe a book that is this well-written, beautifully-developed, and perfectly executed is a near impossible task. I loved everything about this story from the world-building, to the characters, to the magic, to the incredibly swoony romance. This book is everything I hoped it would be and so much more. The various settings in Flame in the Mist are told with such vivid detail, I felt like I was there inside the story. The details of the forest particularly captured my attention. It is haunting, captivating, and a lovely all at the same time. There is also a bit of magic to the forest that made me fall in love with it, in spite of (or maybe because of) its darkness and secrets. There are so many incredible characters in this book, and Ahdieh expertly handled the switching of POVs, and Mariko was an ideal protagonist for me. She is a strong female character, and by "strong" I mean that she is strong in spirit, mind, and heart. She is intelligent. Getting to watch her think through situations and finding effective solutions to those situations was fascinating. She has a wonderful character arc, and I adored her for her love and loyalty to both her friends and family in spite of the fact that they weren't all on the same side of the major conflict that runs throughout this book. Mariko is passionate, caring, smart, and everything that I look for in a main character. There is an incredible cast of characters surrounding Mariko, who I also fell in love with. They all have hidden depths and motivations and getting to see more and more of each their characters unfolding as the story progressed was just so much fun. I love books that include secret societies in their stories, and the Black Clan is a secret society that is captivating on so many levels. I can't say anything more about them without including spoilers, but I am certainly excited for this book to be out in the world so I can discuss them ad nauseum with my fellow voracious readers. From reading the description of this book, I expected to enjoy the plot, the characters, and the world. I did not see expect for there to be such an incredible and intense romance though, and that unexpected element of this story in combination with everything else that I loved about it, is what propelled Flame in the Mist from being a great book to being the best book I've read so far this year. There are some books coming out this year that sound like they are just going to knock our socks off, but it will be amazing difficult for any of them to top Flame in the Mist for being the best YA fantasy novel this year. This book is a masterpiece in storytelling. I cannot think of a single way in which it could be improved, or that would have made me enjoy it more. This is pure perfection on a page, and I will be enjoying every second of anticipating the next book's release
I really enjoyed this book. I went into it not really knowing what to expect. I hadn't read anything by Renée Ahdieh before this book but had heard great things about her work. I saw so many comparisons of this book to Mulan that I was a little fearful that this would just be a rehashing of a very familiar story. I had no reason to worry since this was really a very original story. This was one of those books that I found myself thinking about during the times that I couldn't read. Mariko is on her way to be married when her entourage is attacked. She is able to escape to safety but she has no idea how long she will be able to remain safe. She decides to dress as a boy and find the group that tried to kill her. She does find them and is eventually taken back to their camp. Things start out hard at the camp and she is treated as a prisoner. Eventually, she earns some trust and gets to know some of the members of the group. The way this story was written really just pulled me in. Everything flowed so perfectly and the pacing was well done. I liked this author's voice a lot. It seemed that the words all came together almost magically to create a story that was beautiful and entertaining. There are a lot of really exciting scenes that are offset by others that are more thoughtful. The characters were amazing. Mariko is smart and determined. She learns a lot of really hard truths over the course of this story and is able to accept them and decide how to proceed with her life. Okami was a bit of a mystery which I really liked. He was obviously drawn to Mariko almost immediately and I liked the tension between them. They had some really great banter that was a lot of fun. I would highly recommend this book to others. This is a really great start to a new and exciting series. I seriously did not want it to end and can't wait to find out what happens next! I received an advance reader edition of this book from G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers via First to Read.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh Book One of the Flame in the Mist series Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers Publication Date: May 16, 2017 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the publisher Summary (from Goodreads): The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace. Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known. What I Liked: Flame in the Mist has been one of my most anticipated publications of 2017, and I had been looking forward to reading it for a long time. You know that feeling when you finally get a much anticipated book, and you're so excited, but you just can't seem to open it to start reading? I had this book over almost two months. I was scared. But honestly, I don't know what I was so afraid of, because this book was excellent, and I loved it. I'm going to go ahead and tell you all that 1) this review will not do this book justice, 2) I won't be able to capture the complexities and intricacy of the plot, and 3) I will do my best not to spoil anything, because my goodness there is a lot of things that are unveiled slowly and could definitely be spoiled. Ahdieh has readers guessing right and wrong at every turn! Mariko is on her way to Inako to marry the second son of the emperor. Her marriage has been arranged and she must bring honor to family. Her family is highly regarded, with her father being a samurai lord, and her twin brother being a powerful samurai with the nickname "Dragon of Kai". But her procession is ambushed, leaving everyone dead except Mariko. She escapes, and is determined to find out who tried to kill her. The Black Clan is the likely suspect - a bandit gang of warrior-like men who serve none but themselves. Mariko decides to try and infiltrate the Clan, dressed as a boy, and kill them all. They kidnap her, which works in her favor because she gains access to their encampment. But the longer she gets to know the Clan, the harder it becomes to kill them. What if Ranmaru and Okami weren't the ones that ordered her death? And who are these men, so clearly regarded by the Clan they lead? Mariko slowly discovers that no one is who they seem - and not just within the Black Clan. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
Renée is an auto buy for me, so after screaming, I immediately downloaded this and started it. I love Mariko right from the beginning. She's so smart and so strong, but she's unaware of her abilities. It was delightful to see her figure out her potential and place in the world. The members of the Black Clan are interesting and quite the enigma. I loved seeing their truths revealed. I did struggle with the names and that is my main complaint. Each character seemed to have several nicknames, official names and titles and they were all thrown around. Often in the same paragraph. Eventually I sort of gave up trying to keep people straight. The plot is a bit of a slow burn, but it's captivating. I was sucked in right from the start. The ending is enraging and satisfying and I can't even wait to see what happens next. **Huge thanks to GP Putnam's Sons and Edelweiss for providing the arc free of charge**