Wild Orchid by Cameron Dokey. Once Upon a Time, #15.
My copy: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), February 2012. Paperback, 199 pages. [From Once omnibus.]
Wielding a sword as deftly as an embroidery needle, Mulan is unlike any other girl in China. When the emperor summons a great army, each family must send a male to fight, tom-boyish Mulan is determined to spare her aging father and bring her family honor, so she disguises herself and answers the call.
But Mulan never expects to find a friend, let alone a soul mate, in the commander of her division, Prince Jian. For all of Mulan’s courage with a bow and arrow, is she brave enough to share her true identity and feelings with Prince Jian?
Thoughts on Wild Orchid:
It’s so short. I wanted this to be longer! 200 pages for a Mulan telling just was NOT enough.
As in <200 pages short. I really appreciated the long set-up so that we could learn about Mulan as a person and see the relationships she had with her family and friends. But because of the lengthy introduction, the story began very slow — and then it felt like the actual war story was super condensed. Mulan doesn’t leave for war until more than 100 pages in! And then the romance felt very rushed and insta-lovey and thin, even if it was sweet.
Lack of a villain. There’s not a REAL villain here, which was a shame. I guess one of the princes took on the role of “antagonist,” but he didn’t do anything and just sneered and acted like an ass. I was looking forward to a real menacing threat from the Huns leader, but that sadly wasn’t a thing.
Mulan retellings. This was the first Mulan retelling I’ve ever read. I guess Mulan just isn’t that popular for Western audiences? Be aware that this is not the Disney animated Mulan. This Mulan story doesn’t have anything fantastical in it, no talking dragon, no bickering ancestor ghosts. It’s much more an historical story of the Mulan legend. If you’re looking for other versions of the classic legend and something very faithful to the original ballad, I highly recommend checking out the 2009 Chinese live-action movie Mulan. It’s absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. It probably didn’t help that I watched the movie only shortly before reading Wild Orchid. My expectations were sky high…
Verdict. I did enjoy Wild Orchid. It’s well written and has characters I sympathized with. I think I would have liked it even more had it been longer and meatier. I wanted to see Mulan struggle, I wanted to see her fail, and then I wanted to see her save China heroically. But this is a perfectly serviceable story that is worth reading if you’re a Mulan fan. It probably won’t satisfy you completely, but I had a good time reading it. ♦
Have you read Wild Orchid?
If you haven’t, would you be interested to?
What versions/retellings of the Mulan legend have you come across?
Comment below letting me know!