New Book Nook: Feather and Flame gives Mulan a fun, historical twist

This review was originally posted to The Geeky Waffle and has been reposted here with permission.

Disney’s take on Mulan was a staple of my childhood, and remains a favourite to this day. The direct to video sequel was…less so. In Feather and Flame, the second book in the Queen’s Council series, Mulan’s story is continued in a much more palatable way, complete with action, politics, and even a little romance.

Sometime after stopping the Hun invasion, Mulan has returned home and begun training a militia of women to fight, patrol and generally keep the peace from bandits and others who would cause trouble. A wrench is thrown into her delicate balance when her former commander, and current friend-but-maybe-something-more Li Shang arrives to tell her the Emperor himself urgently wishes to see her. 

Things take yet another turn when she arrives in the Imperial City and is told by the Emperor that he wishes to name her his heir, as his three daughters have married commoners and left palace life (a sweet, subtle nod to the otherwise messy Mulan II). Mulan is reluctant to accept. After all, becoming Empress is not something she ever imagined for herself. She would have to move to the Imperial city and give up her militia. She also wouldn’t be able to marry Shang like the two of them had planned. 

When the Emperor dies before Mulan can refuse his offer she is at once thrust into the role of Empress amidst a cabinet who believe governance is not her – or any woman’s – place, and a fresh new threat from the Huns to the north. 

Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with Chinese history beyond broad strokes, but it’s my understanding that this book takes liberties with Chinese political and social history. It’s also true that the plot elements needed to get Mulan on the throne don’t exactly hold up to intense scrutiny. But the entire premise of the Queen’s Council series is to follow the Disney princesses we know as they ascend their respective thrones, and receive aid from a mysterious group known as the Queen’s Council. 

All this to say, I am more than willing to overlook the contrivances and inaccuracies to take Feather and Flame for what it is: a more historical continuation of Disney’s Mulan, rather than a historically accurate story of the Ballad of Mulan.

The romance with Shang is one moment I want to single out, simply because I’m relieved it happened at all. Too often nowadays, there is a tendency to write romance out for young female characters, as though the ideas of love and strength are mutually exclusive. While it did seem to be heading that way for a little while, author Livia Blackburn fortunately recognized good chemistry when she saw it and decided to see Mulan and Shang’s relationship through. 

Feather and Flame is, to put it bluntly, a lot of fun. The supporting cast made up of Mulan’s militia are wonderful, and the ever-reserved Shang now at constant war with his own feelings of duty and love is nothing short of endearing. Mulan herself remains as feisty as ever, taking on each new challenge with an even-handed grace. 

This is partially why I wish the novel had been longer. Her initial obstacles are not overcome easily, but neither are they overcome with any kind of finality. We are left by the end with the sense that the best is yet to come and her story is just beginning. Perhaps, if the series is successful, and we get lucky, we’ll see a sequel down the line set further into Mulan’s rule.

Feather and Flame is out February 1, 2022

Special thanks to Netgalley and Disney Books for the advance copy for review purposes.

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