In 1998, Disney released the animated film Mulan, a musical set in Han China that centers around Fa Mulan, an ambitious girl from a traditional family who takes her father’s place to join the Imperial Army by disguising herself as a boy. With stellar musical renditions and a vivid storyline, Mulan had always been one of my favorites. When I went into Reflection, expecting fresh characterization and an entrancing plot, I was treated to that and then some. Reflection, part of the Twisted Tale series where classic Disney movies are reimagined with major plot points undergoing unexpected twists, is a sharp, lyrical novel where Fa Mulan, the protagonist, has to travel to the underworld to save her captain from permanent death.
In the middle of a battle, Mulan, sparked by an idea that has the potential to save her warriors turned friends and the entirety of China from the Huns, decides to risk everything and light a cannon that could cause an avalanche. However, in the process of trying to save her from the oncoming avalanche, Captain Shang gets fatally injured by Shan Yu and makes his way to Diyu, the underworld. In order to return the favor, Mulan, disguised as Fa Ping, a boy whose identity she made up to get into the ranks of the army, travels to the underworld.
As she makes her way through Diyu, she struggles with identity and first love, fighting spirit demons as she races against the clock to save Shang and escape the underworld before sunrise. With the help of ShiShi, the Li family guardian, and the ghost of Li Shang’s father, she faces obstacle after obstacle with determination and valour, but time slips away fast in Diyu and everyone seems to be out to stop them. Will Mulan be able to save Captain Shang in time or will it be too late?
One of the things that stood out to me in this book was the world-building and vivid descriptions. In the original movie, the setting drew from most of its historical aspects, but in this reimagining the setting takes inspiration from Chinese mythology and folklore, along with an authentic historical representation of 15th century China, to create a surreal world for us to fall into. With fast-paced, simple yet intense prose, Lim creates a tension with every line on the page. The characters blend well into the style, with distinct personalities and internal conflict that adds another level of characterization into the plot. I especially enjoyed how the protagonist, whose personal struggles dealt with themes like family, loyalty, gender norms and purpose, felt extremely relatable to myself, which is why I recommend it to anyone in search of a book with a strong female protagonist. Reflection is a book whose story I will think about for a long time.
Reflection: A Twisted Tale by Elizabeth Lim. Disney-Hyperion, 2019. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!