Book Review: Flame in the Mist

233080873star

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.

FITM7

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?

Midnight Designs: Strange the Dreamer

StrangetheDreamerPreview

As Lazlo Strange became consumed by thoughts of the fabled Weep, I became utterly entranced by the world in Strange the Dreamer. I could not get the tale out of my head, so I tried to capture just a little of its brilliance with these wallpapers. Happy book birthday to Strange the Dreamer, I already know you’re my favourite read of this year ❤ These are made for iPhone 6, but should work across most smartphones.

  • Quotes and characters belong to dreamsmith extraordinaire and weaver of magic: Laini Taylor.
  • Free for personal usage only.
  • Do not redistribute: this means no reuploading to social media, Pinterest, etc… please just link back to this post.
  • Do not claim as your own.
  • If you enjoyed my work, please consider buying me a cuppa or two via Ko-fi! All donations will go towards image licensing for my next shareable graphics project, so we will all benefit ❤

Read More »

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer

29748925

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 »

Strange Teasers: The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor utterly consumed me within this past week. Like its protagonist, Lazlo Strange, I am enraptured by the fabled city of Weep and its stories. In the novel, Lazlo collected all of his findings on Weep into a little book – it was the symbol of all of his dreams and his yearning.

In a little more than two weeks, Strange the Dreamer will be released and you’ll find out whether Lazlo ever got to see his beloved city. For now, I wanted to share a teaser to whet your appetite. This is what I think a couple of pages from The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange might look like…

The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange

As a boy at the abbey, stories had been Lazlo’s only wealth. He was richer now. Now he had books.

Read More »

Book Review: Wintersong

24763621

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 »

Book Review: Rebel of The Sands & Author Interview

249340654-star

 

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.

Rebel-of-the-Sands.png

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: Half A World

4-star

Title: Half  A World

Author:  Joe Abercrombie

Series?  Yes, 2 of 3

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads

Book Depository


Note:  Contains spoilers for Half A King.

I loved Half A King so I was so excited to come plunging back into The Shattered Sea series.  Though the story in this book was driven by different characters, I still found the cast utterly charming in all their double-crossing and murderous glory.

Review-Hald-The-World

1. Awesome Female Characters

Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War, and put among the boys in the training square, and taught to fight.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Half A King was its treatment of female characters.  The book featured ladies in position of political power, ladies who were physically strong, ladies who were mentally strong, ladies who never took a backseat to the dudes – despite the story being narrated by a male protagonist.  Half The World go one step beyond that to give us more than half a book narrated by Thorn, a veritable badass.

Now, there are many a ‘warrior princess’ type floating around in fictional universe, but Thorn is different from them all in how unabashedly crude and vicious she is. Gone are the beautiful heroine who saves the day while conquering hearts all across the land, all the while leaving not a strand of hair out of place.  Thorn will fight dirty, she will curse and kill, she will get stabbed in the cheek, all to get revel in the glory of battle.Read More »