I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.
There have been many retellings of Mulan recently, but I haven’t read any of them and thought it was time. Thanks to NetGalley I was able to read the new book. Now I went into this read knowing very little about the book (I find this best with retellings) except that it was a part of a larger series.
Unlike many Mulan versions, this novel was set in Lithuania in medieval times. I found the setting very odd, some might find it a breath of fresh air, but I found it strange like the author was attempting to force all these fairy tale characters into one location (numerous famous characters had their stories take place in Lithuania). I admit I know the bare minimum of Poland during this period and perhaps that affects how I view some of the events of the story.
After Mulan’s abusive, drunk father dies of sickness, Mulan pretends to be his son to serve as a soldier and allow her mother to keep their house. With the help of her younger friend Andre, her father’s assistant, she becomes a soldier for the local Duke Konrad to fight the invading Teutonic Knights. Meanwhile, Wolfgang and Steffen, (young men related to Aladdin by marriage) set off to do the same, but Steffen deserts, joining the Knights instead in hopes of finding glory and becoming a knight.
The characters were one dimensional, having only one goal and every little emotion. A few emotions were raised in the conflict but overcome with ease, more like a side thought to make things seem better motivated. As with the classic Mulan story, the skilled soldier, Wolfgang, falls for Mulan and she for him yet believed she could not to be with him. There was no real emotional connection between the two, they were good soldiers and the main characters, therefore, they must fall in love, but it can’t be too easy, so the writer made her hesitant to be with him. The secondary characters were few and far between, with no wants of their own (besides Steffen) and offered little to the story. The dialogue, just like the characters, was flat, dull and very scripted making the story even less exciting.
The writing style was dull, relying on telling instead of showing. This slowed down the action and failed to engage me as a reader. Along with this, the theme was very Christian preaching, stating that God will solve everything, God has a plan, etc. This also made the action less enticing; if God will solve it, why would there be any risk to Mulan? I am not religious and quickly became tired of the preachiness. Perhaps this made me the wrong audience for this book.
The villains of the story, Rusdorf and his Teutonic Knights, had little reason to do their diabolical acts apart from the story needing the conflict. They said they were doing God’s work, but their emotion and conflict were lacking, making them one dimensional. During the battles, there was no real threat to Mulan nor were they difficult for her. It made the story lack any hook and, added together with the one-dimensional characters, made the novel predictable. Why bother reading if you already know what will happen?
I found this novel slow with flat characters and dialogue, dull conflict and tiresome religious themes. Trying to force every fairy tale character into one location (a location very different from where they’re originally from) didn’t seem natural, very obviously a desire by the author for a series in the same place. The story failed to engage me, and I give it 2/5.