We must be swift as the coursing river
With all the force of a great typhoon
With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon
Do those lyrics sound familiar? They better, otherwise we can't be friends anymore! Just kidding. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" is one of my all-time favorite Disney songs from my favorite Disney movie- Mulan. I could sing the movie's praises for days and days but to make things simple: it was the first time I saw a character who looked like me being celebrated for being strong and intelligent. That's why I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard that Elizabeth Lim was slated to write A Twisted Tale retelling of Mulan's story. Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
What if Mulan had to travel to the Underworld?
When Captain Shang is mortally wounded by Shan Yu in battle, Mulan must travel to the Underworld, Diyu, in order to save him from certain death. But King Yama, the ruler of Diyu, is not willing to give Shang up easily. With the help of Shang's great lion guardian ShiShi, Mulan must traverse Diyu to find Shang's spirit, face harrowing obstacles, and leave by sunrise--or become King Yama's prisoner forever. Moreover, Mulan is still disguised as the soldier called Ping, wrestling with the decision to reveal her true identity to her closest friend. Will Mulan be able to save Shang before it's too late? Will he ever be able to trust her again? Or will she lose him--and be lost in the Underworld--forever?
A Twisted Tale is a series of books by Disney Books that reimagines popular Disney animated movies and the stories they were inspired by. They introduce major plot twists that forces greater character development and, dare I say, makes us fall even more in love with the original stories! The first chapter of Reflection by Elizabeth Lim is a near-exact script of the climax of Mulan. You may remember it. Shang's army is hopelessly outnumbered as the Huns descend upon them in the Tung Shao Pass. Mulan gets a brilliant spark of inspiration and snatches the Imperial Army's last cannon. Instead of aiming it at the Huns, she directs the cannon's blast the mountains, which creates an avalanche that sweeps away the enemy army. In his rage, Shan Yu wounds Mulan.
In this retelling, it is not Mulan who is struck down by Shan Yu. Shang receives a mortal wound and his spirit lingers between life and the Underworld. Feeling responsible for the injury, Mulan embarks on an epic journey to the Underworld with the help of a fiery companion (not Mushu this time!) and battles demons, ghosts, and gods to rescue her captain.
It obviously takes a very different turn here from what readers may be used to if, like me, they are devotees of the Disney animated film. But Reflection introduces elements of Chinese culture that I loved, from its depiction of the Underworld and the gods that keep its balance, to Shishi, the Li family's lion guardian. There are elements of the movie sprinkled throughout the book, like mentions of the matchmaker, Mulan's stories of her family, and Shang's fond memory of when Mulan was so nervous that she forgot her name (she ultimately told him it was Ping). Throughout the journey, Shang still only knows her as "Ping," his trusted soldier and friend.
There is an added layer of complexity in Reflection that we don't get from a sixty-minute movie. We get Mulan's inner conflict as she struggles between revealing her identity to Shang, the stalwart and honest captain, and keeping it a secret for her family's sake. We learn more about Shang's background and personality, and he is given dimension beyond being a broad-shouldered (and good-looking), disciplined captain who longs to prove himself on the battlefield. It's delightful to go on this journey with two characters that I thought I knew so well, only for Lim to uncover even more layers to them.
I won't spoil things, but the ending was so sweet and so satisfying! It was the icing on the cake for me.
I rate Reflection 4/5 stars!
Reflection is out on March 27th and you can pre-order your copy here!