Just Because You Gender Bend Doesn’t Mean You’re Mulan: Flame in the Midst by Renee Ahdieh

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The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt 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.

Source: GoodReads

It’s time to be a Debbie Downer, while there have been lots of positive reviews for this book this review isn’t going to be one of them.  Instead, it’s going to be me being extremely grumpy about said book that I gave up on about 90 pages from the end because NOTHING interesting had happened and I didn’t understand what Mariko was trying to do.

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First of all, the Mulan retelling bit?  Other than gender bending and hanging out with a group of guys, don’t see it.

Oh, and this book takes place in feudal Japan NOT China.  Big difference there, publishers.  I know that both countries are in Asia.  BUT they are different countries with severally different histories and cultures.  For example, did you know Japan is where the novel originated (thank you, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego PC Game that I beat about 40K times during my childhood).  I bet unless you played that game or studied Japanese history you didn’t know that.   Also, if you only watched the Disney movie you probably don’t know that Mulan actually was not an original Disney project-shocking, not, since Disney usually adapts various folklores and stories rather than having original projects.  The origins of the story, obviously, are from China.

So…yeah, I don’t necessary know if calling this a Mulan retelling is a good idea, but I guess I could see where marketing was going with this one…

Anyway, the initial set up is an interesting one.  The MC escapes for her life because bandits are trying to kill her and then decides to infiltrate the bandits to find out why they killed her.

And that’s when the book flops because the character does every stupid thing possible when with the bandits, while being depicted as clever.

Look, I get it, you need to have some moments of stupidity to fuel the story but when the character keeps acting stupid and doesn’t do anything to further her plan except make stupid mistake after stupid mistake with to add to another stupid plot point which results with her making out with a guy who probably tried to kill her…

Yeah, I’m not a happy reader.

In Ahdieh’s first series she used a love/hate relationship too and that worked because it was a Scheherazade retelling and you know…kind of happens in that story.  Here though, it annoyed me.  I didn’t like any of these bandits.  I didn’t care for them.  I didn’t care for the lead, or any one else.

I pretty much hated everyone and wanted to tell them they were fucking stupid.

Which isn’t how the jacket described the book at all.  Like, Mariko was described as being this clever character.  Yet, everyone and I mean EVERYONE can figure out her motivations.  Which is ridiculous beyond words.

I am not going to even start on how abusive and annoying I found the love interest.

In the end though, what drove me to DNF this book was the extremely slow pacing of this book.  The fact that I had gotten so far in the book and it seemed like nothing had happened, was enough for me to DNF it.  That and the random make out scene that came out of nowhere.

If you really like the gender bend trope, you might want to give this one a try.  But for me it didn’t work.  I think if anything it made me long to write that book where a boy has to pretend to be a girl in order to save his life/spy on the evil rulers or what not and falls in love with the MC who is all powerful and shit and deals while the guy who is a gal in disguise has to deal with the unfortunate shit that comes with being female-i.e. sexism.   And yeah, I sort of feel pumped to write that now.

Overall Rating: A DNF.  I think this might’ve been a bit of a more subjective than objective DNF though.  The writing is decent, but man did I get annoyed with the characters and the snail pacing of this one.