Saturday, 29 July 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist) by Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Released: 18th May 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on 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.
(from Goodreads)

Flame in the Mist was a strong start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Renée Ahdieh has in store for us next.

So this book has been marketed as a retelling of Mulan, but it really isn’t. I’m sure Mulan inspired it in a lot of ways but it’s not a retelling, and once you get over that, it’s much easier to appreciate the story for what it actually is.

Mariko, our main character, was on her way to marry the son of the Emperor (a deal forged by her father) when she and her company were attacked. Her loyal maidservant, Chiyo, was killed, and Mariko barely escaped with her life. Instead of returning home however, to be cleaned up and sent back out again to a loveless marriage, Mariko decided to take matters in her own hands to try and find out who attempted to murder her, and why. Mariko was a fairly likeable character, and I think she was pretty brave to dress up a boy and join a gang of thieves potentially responsible for the attack on her. In Mariko’s world, women had very little power, and for once, she wanted to do what she wanted without worrying about the consequences it would have. However, having lived an extremely privileged life, she was painfully naïve at times, and I was honestly surprised no-one in the Black Clan suspected her much earlier on. She may have been book smart and strategic, but she knew nothing about the lives regular people led, and it showed. However, she did face every challenge she met, and she didn’t back down, despite her lack of experience.

The other two main characters in this book were Ranmaru and Okami, and I really liked them both. Also, just to say, there’s no love triangle in this book! So yay! Anyway, Ranmaru was a ronin, a son of a disgraced samurai, and he and Okami had a deep connection that went back to their childhood. They were extremely loyal to each other, and while Ranmaru was the leader of the Black Clan, he trusted Okami implicitly and always valued his opinion. I really loved the dynamic between these two and enjoyed reading about them and learning about their backstories. Ranmaru was especially intriguing because I always got the feeling he was plotting something, but I never knew what. Okami was different in the sense that he didn’t want to lead, but was happy to follow orders. He also had an interesting power which we didn’t learn much about, but which I hope will be explored in the next book. He was responsible for Mariko once she joined the Black Clan and was one of few who thought there was something strange about her. I really liked reading about his thoughts on Mariko before he found out she was a girl, and while I think his acceptance of the truth was just a bit too quick, I generally liked his relationship with Mariko, and I’m especially curious to see how things will turn out for them, after the way this book ended.

Plot-wise, there was some parts of this book that I saw coming, but I was really surprised by the ending and overall, found Flame in the Mist to be a really exciting and compelling read. I loved the way the story flowed, and how Mariko’s loyalty began to be torn after spending time with the Black Clan. I also really enjoyed the parts about the Emperor and learning more about his previous actions and the consequences they had. Mariko changed a lot in this book and I am really looking forward to what she does in book two. She used to be so close to her brother Kenshin, who spent the whole of this book trying to find her, but now…I wonder what will happen between them. And after the ending, I really just can’t wait to read book two!

To conclude, Flame in the Mist was an excellent read, and I loved the world-building and getting to know all of the characters. Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz

Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) by Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Walker Books
Released: 1st June 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The world's greatest teen spy is back in action in a thrilling new mission: destroy once and for all the terrorist organization SCORPIA.

Following the events of
Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email--just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down.

Yet SCORPIA knows Alex's weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot-one that will determine the lives of many.

From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth.
(from Goodreads)

As a huge fan of the Alex Rider series when I was younger, I was a both very excited and very concerned when I heard there was going to be a new book. While I did think Scorpia Rising had quite an open ending, I was also so afraid that one of my favourite childhood series would be ruined! Luckily, this was not the case and I ended up really enjoying Never Say Die.

The book started four weeks after the end of Scorpia Rising. Alex was living with the Pleasures and adjusting to life without Jack, but anyone could see he wasn’t doing well. He was withdrawn and quiet, his grades were slipping and didn’t feel like there was any place he fit in. I felt for him because it was obvious he missed Jack and was going through a really hard time without her. The Alex of the previous books was always witty and clever; despite spending so much time out of school, he was always a good student. Seeing him stop caring about his education and friends was sad as a result. Then, something happened to give Alex reason to believe Jack wasn’t dead. And just like that, he was back to his old antics trying to find her, against the advice of everyone he knew, including Mrs Jones who didn’t believe Jack was alive.

I have to admit, going into this book as an older reader, rather than the intended audience, meant having to have a little more suspension of disbelief than I used to when reading this series. I also think things with the Pleasure could have been wrapped up a bit more, but overall, I was impressed. Alex really felt like Alex; his character didn’t undergo any strange personality changes or turnarounds like can sometimes happen when authors return to series they haven’t written for a while. I have always been fascinated by the way Alex thinks and gets himself out of difficult situations, and I think that was just as present as it has ever been in this book.

In terms of the actual story, I did guess some parts but I thought it was interesting where it ended up, especially the ending (sneaky old Mrs Jones, I knew she had something she was hiding). While I missed characters like Smithers (the gadgets!) and wished Sabina had been in a bit more, I really really enjoyed this book as a whole and I’m honestly ready for the next one (there will be a next one, right?).

If you’re a fan of the series, read this book. If you’re new, well you’re going to have a lot of fun catching up.