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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Flame in the Mist

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: The Flame in the Mist

The Flame in the Mist

Author: Kit Grindstaff
Pages: 464
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Read: August 24-27, 2013
Source: Finished review copy from YA Books Central

Description from Goodreads:
Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Features Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.

Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma's past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.

First Sentence: "'Help me—help!'"

Middle grade novels are such a delight for me and such a nice break from YA, with an increased focus on family and a lack of romance. In general, I've been so very lucky picking middle grade books, so I guess it was inevitable that I would finally pick out a clunker. Friends, I do not say this often, but almost nothing in this book worked for me, sad though I am to have to say it. The Flame in the Mist was an over-lengthy, boring disappointment. Also, be warned that this review will contain  SPOILERS.

The cover, which I do like, does largely accurately represent the contents of the book, only it wasn't ever exciting, for reasons I'll explain later. The concept had a lot of promise - a ginger raised by an evil family who discovers they're not her real parents and she must defeat them to save the kingdom from the enveloping mists. Totally legit premise. And yet. The only aspect that I liked were the two golden rats, shown on the cover. Noodle and Pie are great animal companions, so thank goodness for that small mercy. Also, I know most people hate rats, but one of my friends had some in college and they were really nice.

The main reason that The Flame in the Mist flopped is that Jemma utterly lacks agency. Our so-called fiery heroine almost never makes any decisions for herself and is, essentially, lead through the entirety of the prophecy. Calling Jemma the heroine or the savior of this piece is like giving the blindfolded person all the credit for completing a complex maze, when it was all due to the directions given them by their partners. Sure, she muddled through at their bidding, but, other than the fact that she is speshul and has the needed magic, anyone could have done this better than Jemma.

At the opening of the novel, Jemma turns thirteen years old, which sets wheels in motion. She must either join the family who raised her on the dark side or search for the light and her birth parents. Shockingly, she chooses to escape to the light, conveniently overhearing several infodumps as she snoops around the castle. She also just happens to take not only her stone, which gives her power, but some crystals from her mother's room, which will be totally important to the plot. She's handed a magic book and cloak by her supporters in the castle and sent on her way.

Though thirteen, Jemma seemed more like eight years old to me. Her reasoning skills are limited solely to anagrams, which I'll admit she's rather good at. She has to be told everything multiple times in order to perform an action. Once outside the castle, she walks in circles without realizing. She never would have escaped without being saved by a continuous stream of creatures: Noodle and Pie many times over, bats, spiders, a guy who might have developmental issues but conveniently knows medicine, a little boy with a crazy mom, Digby (a boy whose dad makes deliveries to the castle who she's crushing on), a street urchin in a town, and on and on. Despite this constant aid, Jemma continually makes obviously wrong decisions (falling for blatant traps) and fails to show initiative (she carries that damn magic book for a week and never reads it, and, surprise!, it's full of a ton of helpful information. Unsurprisingly, she has to be TOLD to read the book.

By the novel's conclusion, she starts showing some glimmers of thought, and, for a moment, I thought she'd actually had a plan all on her own and a good one too. Then, right after this, the truth came out: "The chaos couldn't have worked better if Jemma had planned it." Now I do realize this is a common phrase, but Jemma should have planned it. She had intentionally made note of disagreement in the ranks of her enemies, as though thinking she could make use of that, but then does so accidentally. Light forbid Jemma ever act like she has braincells.

Even in the freaking final showdown, Jemma collapses like five times. Her rats have to help prod her into continuing. The old drudge who makes Gollum sound like Henry Higgins reveals that he's her ancestor who has been waiting hundreds of years for this moment, so that he can help her fulfill the prophecy. Because for some reason he can't do it, even though he basically does, considering that he has to tell her multiple times to say every single line of a song that will banish the evil demon thing. I wish I were kidding. There you have the plot.

The writing does not please me either. For one thing, I find it overly simplistic. The childishness of the dialog especially adds to the feeling that Jemma and Digby are under ten. Grindstaff also takes too much relish in the use of ellipses and emdashes. Turn to a page, any page, and odds are that you will find at least one ellipsis, probably more. I just played this game and found 9 ellipses and 5 emdashes on one and 1/5 pages (since it just happened to be the end of the chapter). Every page isn't quite that bad, but it is a serious problem nonetheless. Furthermore, Grindstaff's characters use a hodgepodge of accents, all conveyed through the use of dialect, that I found frustrating. There are simply too many different accents. It seems as though each character had their own. Jemma uses standard language. Digby has one dialect, Marsh another, Drudge another, etc.

Finally, there's the romance aspect. While romance doesn't take up much time in The Flame in the Mist, you are definitely meant to be shipping Jemma with Digby. This I do not do, because 1) they lack any real personality and 2) they act like they're 8, until they kiss at the end of the book. Still, this is mostly tolerable. What I drew the line at was when Feo (who has been raised as Jemma's brother, mind) reveals that he has feelings for her and wants her to stay with him forever. It was creepy and a bit rapey, especially since he commented on her dress that had been torn by his sister, Shade, earlier. Also, while they're not related by blood, I find the incestuous vibe highly unsettling in a middle grade novel. Perhaps more worrisome, I think the encounter is meant to endear Feo's character, as he also reveals that he does not like being evil, as he tries to get Jemma to love him. However, he may always have known they weren't related, but she just found out a WEEK AGO. It's creepy. It is creepy and not okay, and I will not like him, especially since he immediately got jealous about Digby and left her to be sacrificed. So just no to that whole unnecessary, shudder-inducing plot point.

Rarely does this happen, but I really cannot in good conscience recommend The Flame in the Mist. The plotting, characters and writing all fell short, and the weird incestuous element was the final nail in the coffin. Based on reviews, this book does work for some, but it didn't work for me to the degree that I cannot fathom why. If the book interests you, do feel free, as ever, to seek other opinions, as this is merely my own.

Rating: .5/5

Favorite Quote: Nope.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience ginger hair girl usually are really smart on books. This times instead it seems that she needed to have things to do ponted out with a big flashing neon arrow like in video games.
Though idea of the two golden rats is not bad.


August 29, 2013 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Brandy said...

I'm so sorry you had to experience this, yet can't help being glad you did. I will in no way be tempted to change my mind and read it now.

August 29, 2013 at 6:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, what a stink-bomb, huh? This sounds awful. I remember our ellipses discussion, but forgot this was the one with so many of them. Way to make something that should build tension or mystery become redundant and gross, author.

Also the "brother" admitting he has feelings for Jemma like a week after she found out they weren't related? NOT OKAY. Months later, eh, MAYBE since I can sometime suspend some disbelief in a book but a week? EW, creeper brother. EW.

And finally, Jemma sounds like a hot mess. I don't know if I could stomach reading this one. Sheesh.

Once Upon a Prologue

August 29, 2013 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger fakesteph said...

Wow, I'm kind of impressed that you made it through the whole book. This sounds... like it isn't for me. And the scene at the end of with the brother-dude sounds like it was just really badly done.

August 31, 2013 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

You know, I wanted to read this book though I think the cover is fairly awful. The author is very nice (I know, the worst reason EVER for reading a book), and I think I remember being interested by the premise around the time it came out. *scratches head* Anywho, I didn't read all of your review because of the threat of spoilers, and I'm torn now. *sigh* There should be no bad middle grade books. :-(

September 1, 2013 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I remember struggling to read this book too-it was just so dull and I actually fell asleep at one point though I managed to finish it eventually. Not a winner for me either!

September 5, 2013 at 12:54 AM  

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