I read books of all kind, but this year I was inspired to pick up the "No Dudes Allowed" reading challenge from Lilit Marcus. I have a very long list of books that I want to read by all sorts of people, but I think this challenge with be fun and I hope to share my experience.
Sections in this review: Research. Writing. Characters.
I was pleasantly surprised at how closely this followed the ancient poem "The Ballad of Mulan", who is a historical figure who make have lived around the Northern Wei dynasty.
I had low expectations for this since this was my first time reading anything by Cameron Dokey and because I thought since it was a "retelling"* it would be shallow, which it kind of was but at least she went above my expectations in terms of writing style.
To clarify what I mean by shallow, I assumed Dokey would merely utilized archetypal and stereotypical conceptions of ancient Chinese people ad culture. However, Dokey showed that she did some do research for this. The description of the characters revealed the concept behind writing certain characters—the story and history behind a Chinese character and how it's important to its meaning. (Which I appreciate since that is why I adore traditional Chinese script so much.) Mulan's monologue in the beginning, fairly depicted the old-school ways of fortune-telling (by zodiac, birthday, numbers, and stuff) and—from what I observed from my mom's practice of that—Dokey's evaluation of Mulan in those terms were well done. She has shown a decent understanding of the culture and even gender roles, but it was still very generic to the point where the story could have been set in some other Asian country.
Now because this followed the original poem so well, it reminded me of the 2009 Chinese movie version (Hua Mulan, starring Zhao Wei)which made me have deja vu expereiences while reading the book. Seriously, if you want to watch this book, watch Hua Mulan (2009).
I like her style. The descriptions and introspective passages were beautifully written. Her sentences seemed short yet concise, which I love because it really help move the story along. Short and sweet and straight forward is a good way to go with such an overdone story like that of Mulan. But it didn't really do much for her character because even during introspection, Mulan's attributes are shallow and I don't feel anything really deep or relatable about her.
I appreciate that Dokey didn't focus so much on the romantic aspect of this book. Even though I enjoyed Hua Wei and Zao Xing's endearing relationship, it was only a plot device and I like it that way. I'm sure there are a few people who may have wanted Mulan and Li Po to end up together, but that wouldn't be right. It would take away from Dokey's subliminal message of how a girl and a guy can be friends without falling romantically for each other. Though I would be content if Mulan didn't really have a relationship, I see how important Jian is to be character. By establishing a relationship with Jian, Mulan established a relationship with her father. To be clearer, Hua Wei inspired Jian to be courageous, so when Mulan didn't really want anyone to uplift her spirits Jian unknowingly stepped in as her father would (eh, maybe he wouldn't but I mean they have a pretty tight relationship so...) by encouraging to be courageous.
Overall, good rhetoric and good use of characters and character interactions. But with the shortness of the book, it did feel rough and choppy at the time transitions as well as made her hastily establish herself as a hero to the point where there wasn't much any emotional struggle for her. Also, the narration in this book is so generic I didn't have a feel for anything distinctly of Chinese culture. It was nicely written, but it was like every other of "accurate" narration of the same story.
Hua Mulan: Realtic female protagonist in that Dokey displayed her strengths and weaknesses. In terms of her character, one flaw would be, that she gets over things a little too easily. She doesn't have that much of a struggle in which she was truly suffering. There were obstacle in her way, but she was about to get over them easily—even Li Po's death because at least her Prince was alive.
I like that she's head-strong, clever, and can shoot like a champion yet is mildly feminine (I'm referring to her gushy feelings for Jian), has that flaw of thinking she knows what's best (which she did most of the time throughout the book, but I'm just zeroing in on the "food incident" with Min Xian before Mulan left), etc.
Li Po: I really liked this guy. He was balanced in his attributes and I like that he didn't look down on Mulan for wanting to do what the boys did. Mostly like because she was higher on the ladder than him family-wise, but still...Li Po was a good friend and it was a shame to see him go.
Jian: The relationship between him and Mulan was very forced, possibly due to the shortness of the book. It's great that he is humble and has a sense of humor, but Mulan never really established an deep emotional connect with him, one that would be strong enough to fight for him and her country, of course.
Gen. Yuwen and Hua Wei: If you though I was happy Li Po being so accepting of Mulan's social defiance, than I was elated when I read that two army men were accepting and encouraging of Mulan's ambitions. These two are really good father-figures, but that still make this novel a bit too male-heavy.
Zao Xing: Thank goodness she is not an "evil step-mother", not that Mulan would really submit to that. She's a kind soul and a cute plot device; good addition to the roster, Dokey.
Min Xian: The sassy-caretaker. She's an archetype, but I love her anyway, like I do with every other sassy-caretaker I'm seen/read (e.g. Rhonda from A Cinderella Story).