Wild Orchid

Wild Orchid by Cameron Dokey, an installment in the “Once upon a Time” series, retells “The Ballad of Mulan.” With a mother who died in childbirth and a father who hadn’t returned from the army since her death, Mulan grows up parentless and as a tomboy. Mulan’s neighbor and only close friend, Li Po, helps her balance her required work of sewing and embroidery with her desire to ride a horse, use a sword, learn archery, and write. The war with the Huns ends, and after a long absence, Mulan’s father returns home, surprised by the young woman who is his daughter. Just as Mulan is adjusting to this new life (along with a stepmother), another army is called to fight for China, and Mulan realizes she must fight in order to protect her new family even though this means she must leave home and disguise herself as a man. From there, Mulan is forced to rely on her ability as an archer, her friendship with Li Po, and the kindness of her handsome commander, Prince Jian, to save China and discover herself.

I loved Wild Orchid, yet was a bit disappointed. Having read all of the other books in the “Once upon a Time” series, I was glad that Dokey chose to write an adaptation of a non-European tale, thus broadening our horizons a bit. Still, the novel itself disappointed. The first half presented Mulan before she joined the army, developing her background in terms of interest, education, friends (well, really friend), and family history. I really appreciated this depth, but it was lost in the second half. Based on the summary and my prior familiarity with Mulan’s story (I promise it’s not just from the Disney movie!), I would have expected her time training and fighting the Huns would have been more significant to the tale. Instead, this portion of Mulan’s story was rushed.

Furthermore, the romance between Mulan and Prince Jian was not developed enough and thus not particularly satisfying to the reader. They have few interactions, let alone meaningful ones. As compared to other books in the “Once upon a Time” series, the romance in Wild Orchid just was not fleshed out enough (though if you’re not reading the book for the romance plot, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything). Nevertheless, Wild Orchid is a nice addition to the “Once upon a Time” collection and a great read for the beach or bedtime. I really enjoyed what was there; I only wish Dokey had expanded the second half of the story, particularly Mulan and Prince Jian’s relationship. 7 out of 10.

P.S. For a bit of background on Hua Mulan, check out this Wikipedia article.
P.P.S. Which cover do you like better? The first (the illustrated one) is the original, the second the reprint. I have to go with the first.

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