Book Review: Flame in the Mist

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Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes.

Goodreads

Book Depository  ||  Dymocks  ||  Booktopia


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo challenge, you can check out my TBR for it here.

While Flame in the Mist was an enjoyable read overall, I felt somewhat let-down because of its immense potential to be remarkable. The premise promised greatness: a fantasy set in an alternate feudal Japan, featuring a cross-dressing noble lady skilled at invention and her time amongst lordless samurai warriors. I expected Flame in the Mist to sweep me off my feet. However, issues with inconsistent character development and pacing meant the book missed the mark for me.

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Flame in the Mist follows Mariko Hattori, daughter of a prominent daimyou, as she attempts to exact her revenge on The Black Clan. She believes this notorious mountain-based samurai gang is responsible for the death of her servants and foot soldiers, as part of an effort to assassinate her. Mariko infiltrates The Black Clan by disguising as a young male traveler. Before she knows it, Mariko is embroiled in a net of intrigue involving a lost shogun and a struggle for nationwide dominance.

First of all, I just wanted to say that Flame in the Mist is not retelling of Mulan – because it’s something I keep hearing on Twitter. Both stories have a cross-dressing heroine, and that’s where the similarities end. Japan and China are separate countries, and Mulan is not a folklore they share.

One of the things I was glad to see in Flame in the Mist is how different Mariko is from Renee Ahdieh’s previous protagonist, Shazi. Mariko is more of an observer and a thinker, someone who weighs up all of her options before acting. Due to this, at times her narration can seem repetitive and sedate. Despite the her tendency to lapse into long internal monologues, I appreciated that Mariko was the main driver of her story. It’s her actions that continually propelled the plot forwards, in spite of the machinations around her.

I must admit that I found many of the secondary characters to be lacking in dimension. Aside from Okami and Ranmaru, who had development thanks to their many interactions with Mariko – the rest of the cast suffered. I never felt that Mariko formed am authentic or lasting bond with The Black Clan. Similarly, the side story featuring Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, and his love interest fell a little flat. The book did try to address the sexism inherent within Mariko’s society, and I commend it for featuring several key female characters. Towards the end, there are hints that more of these characters will take centre-stage in the sequel – so I look forward to seeing the gender roles explored further.

My main issue with Flame in the Mist came from most of the book’s characterisation being told rather than shown. The book kept telling me about the brilliance of Mariko’s mind, how mysterious Okami is, how Ranmaru’s presence exudes power and command – but I was never convinced as they did little to back these claims up. The primary romance in the novel also suffered due to similar lack of development. One moment, our protagonists were eyeing one another with disinterest and hostility, the next they were utterly consumed by lust. I did like the interactions between them once the romance begun, but I am still perplexed on how it happened.

As for the world building, I admit I was a little disappointed by Flame in the Mist’s vision of Japan. Having read The Wrath and the Dawn, I know the author is capable of ensnaring all of our senses when it comes to setting. The Japan in Flame in the Mist seems a bit like a theme park. Samurai? Check. Emperors? Check. Maiko and geisha? Check. Teahouses? Check. Ninja? Check (you can’t tell me that Mariko’s inventions aren’t directly copied off ninja devices!) Youkai? Check. Lengthy description of kimono? Check. I also found the use of the Japanese vocabulary inconsistent and confusing, as it seems the author could not decide whether she wanted to use the English or the Japanese equivalent of certain words, and constantly fluctuated between them. Mercifully, this was limited to the first few chapters of the novel.

Overall, I am still invested enough in the story to check out the sequel. I would recommend it if you’re looking for a non-Western YA fantasy – especially as it seems I am amongst the minority when it comes to this book.


Have you read Flame in the Mist? What are some of your favourite books set in Japan?

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer

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5star

Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? Yes. 1 of 2.

Goodreads

Book Depository | Amazon | Dymocks | Booktopia


Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.

Laini Taylor weaves a languid and otherworldly dream with her latest release. Strange the Dreamer is a lesson in yearning. Readers will long for this vibrant world where science and magic exists side by side, where dreams and reality defy distinction, where there’s secrets and mysteries – none as perplexing as the puzzle of the lost city of Weep. Describing Strange the Dreamer is an exercise in futility, it’s as impossible as recalling the true name of Weep. I’ll try my best though, just for you!

Strangethedreamer Review

‘Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself.’

For most of Zeru, Weep is a fable, a mere legend of a splendid city dreamed up to entertain children and fill the pages of a storybook. For Lazlo Strange, Weep is a compulsion, he’s been riveted by stories of its marvels as a child – and he’s determined to remember the Unseen City. Lazlo also dreams that one day, he will be able to walk down its legendary lapis lazuli roads and meet the the city’s famed Tizerkane warriors. For the junior librarian, it’s an impossible dream – yet he continues to hope and hunt for signs of the lost city within The Great Library of Zosma.Read More »

Book Review: Wintersong

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4-star

Title: Wintersong

Author: S. J. Jones

Series? Yes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Goodreads

Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia


Wintersong was deeply inspired by classical music, especially the works of Mozart. Liesl’s ambition and passion as a composer was a significant catalyst for many of the novel’s events. Therefore, I wanted to review Wintersong using musical terminology, and I hope I do it justice – especially because my musical knowledge is non-existent (thank you for my crash course, Google!).

Prelude –
an introductory piece of music.

Like all of the best stories, Wintersong contains breathtaking beauty, but also holds danger and darkness within its intoxicating pages. S. J. Jones is a conductor of words, she weaves her love of gothic fairy tales, Mozart, and Labyrinth to form Liesl’s sensual tale of love, loss, and sacrifice.

Wintersong

Fugue –
a composition characterised by the repetition of a principal theme/subject in simultaneously sounding melodic line.

At the heart of Wintersong is a tale about Liesl’s identity and self-discovery. The prologue begins with a long-forgotten play date between a young Liesl and the Goblin King. where games were wagered and promises were made. Memories of these games were soon hidden by the tolls of life and Liesl’s burgeoning adulthood, until they’re reignited by an encounter at the Goblin Market.Read More »

Pre-Release Thoughts: The Bear and the Nightingale

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is not released until January 2017, but I already know that it will be amongst my top ten list of next year. I adore immersive, dark, and atmospheric folklore retelling. This book dishes all of these elements up and more, here’s a sneak peek as to why you should pre-order this beautiful book.

Summary: In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

Preorder Via: Book Depository ||  Amazon  ||  Booktopia  ||  BookworldRead More »

Pre-Release Thoughts: Caraval

I read Caraval for the ReadThemAllThon as my Marsh Badge (Paranormal/Supernatural Book). This is my version of a review for the book, as I don’t intend to write a full review until it’s closer to the release date.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC of this book by Hodderscape.

Previously, on pre-release thoughts, we talked about Nevernight. Today, we’ll be talking about all things Caraval, even though it isn’t technically out until January 2017. Guys, you have a lot to be excited for when 2017 comes around!

Caraval by Stephanie Garber will released January 31st (US) and January 26th (UK).

Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon | BooktopiaRead More »

Potterhead July: Tales of Beedle the Bard and the Power of Stories

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First of all, I would like to thank you to every single person who has contributed a post or commented on a Potterhead July post – you’ve made July truly magical. We have less than a week left until the release of The Cursed Child, and I hope we will all love it as much as we loved the adventures of Harry Potter.

Here’s my own entry for the Potterhead July festival, admittedly several weeks late because I am horribly disorganized and got consumed by Pokemon GO. I also wanted to chance to finish rereading The Tales of Beedle the Bard before I completed this post because I wanted it to be a truly informed and comprehensive discussion on the function of fictional works – both within our real lives and within the world of Harry Potter.

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I remember my initial excitement over The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and how it made me felt closer to Harry Potter’s fantastical world. It felt right that young witches and wizards would also fall asleep to bedtime stories, and that these repeated stories should be more powerful than they seem. After all, isn’t this exactly what happens in real life? I have always loved books about stories, especially the ones that hid truths in plain sight or became more powerful with each telling. The Tale of the Three Brothers will eventually go on to become a fine example of this fact.

The wizarding’s world lack of fictional books prior to the reveal of Beedle the Bard have always struck me as odd. Here was a group of people living amongst the magic we Muggles could only dream of, yet they seemed utterly devoid of fictional imagination. Where was their equivalent for Tolkien, or Jane Austen, or J. K. Rowling? Entire generations of children grew up to be obsessed over Quidditch and love potion, where people poured over gossips penned by Rita Skeeter, yet where were the people in love with fictional universes? Hermione Granger, our resident bookworm, mentions only non-fictional biography or textbooks. Even Gilderoy Lockhart’s wildly fictitious accounts were based on the real life and works of other witches and wizards.

Naturally, the lack of fictional works in the world of Harry Potter had a very obvious explanation: it’s a gap in JKR’s immense world-building. To an avid fantasy reader like myself (and like most readers of Harry Potter), it’s an absence that made the wizarding world less believable – simply because I think a civilisation cannot exist in the absence of stories. Do wizarding folks simply not need fantasy because their life is literally magic? Do they not need grand legend and tales because, for them, Merlin and the philosopher’s stone are real? Somehow, I doubted this. When Tales of Beedle the Bard arrived, it saved me from a wizarding world identity crisis. It’s OK, everyone, they also grew up with stories, they also know of their power.Read More »

Midnight Designs: A Court of Wallpapers

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If you follow me on any form of social media, you’ll know that I am pretty much obsessed with A Court of Mist and Fury. Many of my fellow fans have been asking for some wallpapers based off the series. To quote Rhysand, here’s to the dreams that are answered.

  • Free for personal use only.
  • Do not redistribute.
  • Series and quotes belong to the incredible Sarah J Maas.
  • Resolution is for iPhone 6 but should fit onto all phones.

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DROPBOX LINK.

A Court of Thorns and RosesIs anyone surprised I used a Rhysand quote in both these wallpapers? For this, I picked rose motifs for call-back to the Spring Court/Beauty and the Beast, some neat little arrows as a reminder of Feyre’s humble beginning as a huntress, and those masks the Spring Court denizens were stuck wearing. I totally mentally edited out the masks while I was reading the book, though.

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DROPBOX LINK.

A Court of Mist and Fury: Like the rest of the fandom, this is my favourite quotes from one of my favourite scenes. Team Night Court forever. I used motifs of constellations and stars for obvious reasons. I thought it looked like she was winnowing with the feathers (use your imagination and humour me a little here). Let’s not look too closely at her hair/Illyrian leathers in this one though, guys. My redrawing needs work.


If you’re after more Sarah J Maas related wallpapers, I posted some of the Throne of Glass series a while back here. I also started making the wallpapers for Assassin’s Blade and Empire of Storm tonight, but they didn’t really fit into the look of this post so I’ll save them for another day. Follow the blog for update as soon as they’re up!

My other wallpapers for other series can be found here.

If you love my stuff and want to commission me for a blog redesign, subscription box products, or any other graphics reason, please contact me here. I also have a Society 6 Store filled with bookish goodies.

FIND ME ON: Twitter // Instagram // Bloglovin

Book Review: Rebel of The Sands & Author Interview

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Title: Rebel of the Sands

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


 

I received a review copy of this book from Allen & Unwin in exchange for an honest review.

Rebel of the Sands had me the moment I saw its utterly stunning UK cover. I only became more enrapt when I saw promises of a gun-toting heroine taking on an Arabian Nights inspired world. I truly enjoyed the spin on mythologies and the cinematic action scenes this book offered.

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The book offers a promising start, with some of my favourite story devices being employed: Amani crossdresses to enter a sharpshooting tournament, where she proceeds to rip all of men to shreds with her incredible skills. Although YA has no shortage of strong ladies, I still have the urge to seal clap every single time I see someone this awesome.

Amani’s confident, competent, and sassy – all that I love in a leading lady. I liked that she also had flaws, being impulsive and at times, short-sighted to the bigger picture. I could empathise with her wish to be more, and to be free – as she plots to leave behind the barrent waste of Dustwalk. In fact, I grew to like Amani so much in the beginning that I forgave the book for introducing our obligatory love interest very early on – despite his entrance being particularly predictable:

‘He had strange sharp features I’d never seen before, with high-angled cheekbones, a straight square haw, and eyebrows that made darl slashes above the uncanniest eyes I’d ever seen. He wasn’t bad looking, either, at that…’

Amani and Jin shared a sweet romance, even though they did lack some chemistry. I personally felt Amani had a lot more spark with some of the side characters we get introduced to later on in the novel. I thought their banter lacked bite – although they did genuinely moving moments. Nothing warms my heart more than a heroine that does the saving, rather than the other way around.

Aside from Amani and Jin, there’s also a cast of colourful characters. Despite their lack of page time, I found myself wanting to learn more about them. There’s the magnetic Shazad, who appeared when I started to despair about the lack of important side female characters in the story. There’s also Amani’s cousin, Shira – whose motives I found utterly fascinating even though she remained antagonistic towards our protagonist. I sensed in her the same need to escape from Dustwalk, and I hoped the cousins can realise they have a common goal in future novels. Of course, that could still be my wishful thinking and Shira will remain a bitter and conniving – but if Dudley Dursley could do it, Shira can, too!

The world building in this book also has immense potential, with the scope already covering three separate nations in this novel. However, we spend most of our time in the Arabian-inspired Miraji. Rebel in the Sands make a genuine attempt at being diverse, with both our protagonists coming from non-Western background. I did bristle a little when we kept reminded of Amani’s extraordinary blue eyes. The book does offer an explanation for this initially baffling choice, but for once – I would like to see brown eyes being accepted in fiction.

‘Iron could hold the First Beings. Or kill them, same as it could a ghoul. Bind them to mortality.’

Another thing I enjoyed about the story were the richly drawn world. Filled with gunpowder and danger – the story could have quickly become Westernised. Nonetherless, the book maintained an authentic Middle Eastern feel – with mythologies about Djinns and fairy tale creatures conjured up by the author. There’s also a strong element of tales, and the remnants of myths that dwell even in the age of Iron and technology. The juxtaposition of the new and old, of the fantastical and progress – has always intrigued me as a reader. Rebel in the Sands offer a glimpse into a world that’s ready to forget the magic in legends, and creatures of myth not ready to be forgotten. The revolution brewing was also somewhat set around the revival of these myths and magic. Not a novel idea in fiction, but certainly one I eat up with a spoon every single time.

‘Night in the desert was different when it wasn’t on the edge of the campfire. When there was no laughter and music and storytelling from the caravan to eclipse the sounds that came from the dark.’

The writing in Rebel of the Sands was also richly imaginative and cinematic in its imageries. Descriptions of the otherwise barren desert was vivid and atmospheric, adding to the scale of worldbuilding. The plot also moved at a constant pace, with Amani and Jin encountering and solving one dilemma after another in quick successions. While the storyline stuck very closely to the expected path: inexplicably unique girl on a mission, and is converted into joining a revolution – it kept interest by the sheer pace of things. I find myself interested enough to check out the next book.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Allen & Unwin also gave me an exciting opportunity to pick the brains behind this story! Thank you so much to Alwyn Hamilton for giving these detailed answers – and for the story behind her encounter with Hugh Grant 😉

Alwyn HamiltonAlwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and lived between Canada, France and Italy until she was three, when her family settled in the small French town of Beaune. She studied History of Art at King’s College, Cambridge, graduated in 2009 and lives in London, where she works for Christie’s as Senior Administrator in the Interiors department.

1. Congratulations on your debut novel! What has been the most memorable part of your publishing journey?

Thank you so much! The submissions process probably sticks out the most. It was such a whirlwind I don’t know if I took all of it in. But the evening of the U.S auction for the book I do remember well. After trying (and failing) to work for most of the day, I had to go find an antique fainting couch to sit on for a bit (my workplace had those). And then my best friend came and collected me. I was glued to my phone and saw an email forwarded from my agent about Viking from another author who I really admire, and I nearly walked into traffic. Only my friend grabbing the back of my shirt and pulling me back stopped me.
Then, the following day, I got a box full of sand, with a bottle, wrapped in a red scarf, with the pitch from Faber inside.
Those two moments, both from the publishers who wound up getting the book at the end of the auction, stand out to me.

2. You finely balanced authentic cultural accuracy and creatively spinning your own myths in Rebel of the Sands. Do you have any tips for writers who are trying to do the same?

My biggest tip would be, take the time to invent an origin story! Whether it’s from scratch or heavily inspired by existing religion, you want to know your world’s version of “let there be light” or Kronos eating his own children, because everything springs from there in some way.

The Humans in rebel, were, according to their religion, made from an elemental place. They were built from earth and water mixed together, carved by the air, and then brought alive with a spark of fire. That meant that a lot of the elements I pulled into the world and their stories tied back to this elemental place in some way, like sand horses, Djinn made of fire who can summon a sand storm… And then, because the humans were created as mortal warriors against an evil that brought the dark with her, it meant that quite a lot of the stories they tell come from this great war between good and evil.

3. I really enjoyed the wide-scope of your world building. Which challenges did you face in attempting to meld Middle Eastern mythology with Wild West-esque action?

I actually came up with the idea to meld the two because of how much cross over they have. Desert landscapes, Bandits, a strong role of religion and on and on. The spots where they didn’t cross over, technology and magic, then became opposing forces. Stories from both cultures are actually filled with terrific amounts of adventure so they fit pretty well together for me, though of course I always wanted to be careful that I was crafting a world that seemed authentic and where everything did fit in, and that I was never throwing an element in there for the sake of it, that it always added to the setting and the story I was building.

It was a balancing act, but I think people need to know it’s ok to diverge from actual history when making up settings, especially when “Historical accuracy” is so often cited as an excuse not to include any diversity, even in a made up world.
4. The sequence with the Buraqi was amazing! If you could catch one, where would you ride off to?

Hmmm…well they can’t run across water, but assuming I could use the Eurotunnel in order to get to the continent, I’d ride to the south of Italy and find a beach with some sun to lounge in and read a book by day, and eat pasta by night.

5. I loved the tinge of Arabian Nights in your work. Hypothetically speaking, which of Scheherazade’s stories would have been Amani’s favourite?

Oooh, I love this question. I mean the first thing to say about the Arabian Nights is that it is not a fixed text by any means so I’ve encountered a lot of different stories in different versions and there are different editions and translations. But, just flipping through my two editions of it, the story that jumped out was the tales of the journeys of Sinbab the Sailor. Those are stories about a man off to seek his fortune and encountering it through adventures and I think that would appeal to Amani. Also Jin used to be a sailor so there’s that.
6. Do you have any book recommendations for readers who loved Rebel of the Sands?

I love giving book recs! I’ll give a few “if you liked X you’ll love Y” style if that’s ok?
If you liked the girl finding her strength a desert setting, I’d point you towards Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and Robin McKinley’s THE BLUE SWORD.
If you liked a girl defying gender expectations by cross-dressing, you have to read Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA.
If you liked the action sequences I’ll point you towards Marie Lu’s LEGEND Trilogy.
If you liked the world building, I’ll point you towards Marie Rutkoski’s THE WINNER’S CURSE and Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW & BONE.
7. I’m so curious for the story behind this quote on your Twitter profile: ”You’re quite intimidating.’ – Hugh Grant to me once.’
Ha! I used to work for an auction house. It was actually the day after the U.S auction for the book, and day before the UK, so I was feeling a little like I was floating outside of my body at all times so I have no idea what expression I must’ve been wearing. But I had signed up to work overtime doing reception for the charity auction of Paddington bear sculptures because I needed some extra cash to buy Christmas presents. There were a few celebrities on the list, Hugh Grant was one of them, and he arrived about 5 minutes late, after everyone else had gone in. So instead of a friendly crowd of people milling around as a buffer, he was greeted by me, and two other girls wearing all black, standing behind glowing podiums, framed by a huge sweeping staircase, controlling the guest list. He stepped through the doors, looked startled and said: “Oh, you’re quite intimidating.” I was so tempted to pretend I didn’t know who he was and make him give me his name for the guest list to live up to this description.

Book Review: Truthwitch

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4-star

Title: Truthwitch

Author: Susan Dennard

Series? Yes. 1 of 4 (?)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


I have to be frank, the twitter promotion of Truthwitch had me very nervous about this book. I thought, surely, nothing is that good – my cynicism stemmed from a 2015 burned out from hype.  Nonetheless, the day it was released, I sneaked onto Kindle and snagged myself a copy.  My fears were alleviated, Truthwitch was a memorable read – filled with characteres I could root for. While I had minor issues with some of the relationships and plot points, I could see myself becoming a loyal follower of the Witchland series.

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The Chosen Pair

“I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.”

The lack of central female friendship in fiction is frustratingly prevalent. We live in an age where movies are still getting a pat on the back for passing a rudimentary Bechdel’s test, for Chrissake!  Truthwitch features a steadfast and crucial friendship between two fierce ladies, for that it won a lot of points in my book.  When it’s hinted that the Classic Chosen One trope has been tweaked in favour of a Chosen pair of friends? My heart can’t take it, where has this storyline been all my life?!Read More »

Read At Midnight Designs: Six of Crows

I have been wanting to highlight Six of Crows in a graphics post ever since I read the book. Everything is so quotable, everything is so shippable, everything is so amazing. See my full review for full on gushing.

Six of Crows iPhone Wallpapers

Characters and quotes belong to the flawless Leigh Bardugo.

Character illustrations in wallpaper 2-4 are drawn by Kevin Wada as part of the Six of Crows promotional material.

Please don’t redistribute images or download links.Read More »