Hello Humans! Who is ready for another retelling? I know last year was the year of ALL THE RETELLINGS but they are absolutely still being published and I am absolutely still reading them. I was drawn into Melanie Dickerson’s The Warrior Maiden largely because I thought the cover was beautiful, very soft colours with that pop of red, but I also love a retelling and a Mulan retelling but set in medieval Europe sounded like it was worth a shot. Sadly, this book ended up not being my cup of tea, but there are some things I did like about it. Read on for more of my thoughts.
From New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson comes a fresh reimagining of the classic Mulan tale.
Mulan isn’t afraid to pretend to be a son and assume her father’s soldier duties in war. But what happens when the handsome son of a duke discovers her secret?
Mulan is trying to resign herself to marrying the village butcher for the good of her family, but her adventurous spirit just can’t stand the thought. At the last minute, she pretends to be the son her father never had, assumes his duties as a soldier, and rides off to join the fight to protect the castle of her liege lord’s ally from the besieging Teutonic Knights.
Wolfgang and his brother Steffan leave Hagenheim with several other soldiers to help their father’s ally in Poland. When they arrive, Wolfgang is exasperated by the young soldier Mikolai who seems to either always be one step away from disaster . . . or showing Wolfgang up in embarrassing ways.
When Wolfgang discovers his former rival and reluctant friend Mikolai is actually a girl, he is determined to protect her. But battle is a dangerous place where anything can happen—and usually does.
When Mulan receives word that her mother has been accused of practicing witchcraft through her healing herbs and skills, Mulan’s only thought is of defending her. Will she be able to trust Wolfgang to help? Or will sacrificing her own life be the only way to save her mother?
I didn’t mind the story of this so much. Usually, with Mulan (or a retelling thereof), the turning point of the story is where Mulan’s identity is revealed and then perhaps there’s one more peak in the story where she rescues everyone in all her womanly glory (at least in my experience that’s how the layout of these things goes). In this instance, the reveal comes at around 50% of the way through the book (where I might expect it more at 65-70% of the way through. In fact, most of the conflict in this book actually comes from religious tension (and a bit of sexual tension) as opposed to issues with Mulan’s gender. On the one hand, I think that’s a good thing, and an interesting way to choose to retell this classic story. A part of me was pleased when various characters didn’t make a big deal out of it, and Mulan wasn’t forced to stop doing what she was doing. But on the other hand, it does sort of undermine the tension built up in the earlier portion of the book, if none of it mattered so much, then the release of tension when she is accepted is so much less satisfying.
I found the writing, particularly in the opening chapters, incredibly clunky. I understand that it was necessary to set up the tension between various groups and to feel out the historical context, but it felt very strange having characters say things like (I’m paraphrasing) “but father we hate the Teutonic knights because of x and y don’t we?” – it would possibly have been more effective to put that information into a preface rather than in clunky dialogue. This was much better later in the book, but the writing still didn’t quite have a flow that I would have liked.
I thought that the romance, which is the key plot in this book, was very sweet. I liked that it took a while to come to a head, with both characters needed to get to a place where they were ready to admit their feelings. I will admit to being a sucker for the ‘teaching one of them how to read’ trope so perhaps I am biased. There are times where you do hit that issue that so often crops up in romance plots where the characters could resolve all their problems by talking to one another, but there are also some sweet moments within the plot.
I can’t speak to the representation of an Asian character in this book as I am a white lady, but I did think that it was an interesting choice (I can’t speak to whether it was for the better or the worse) to keep Mulan’s name and racial identity while moving the story to eastern Europe. I would have expected her name to have been changed and for her to have simply been a Lithuanian woman. I’ll look to read some reviews from Asian reviewers rather than speak to that myself.
I wanted to enjoy this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me. I thought that the book went into religion in a big way that was certainly historically relevant and I’m certain that was a deliberate choice on the part of the author – but this wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m sure there are people who will delight in this story but I am not one of them.
My rating: 2/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Is this a story for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!