18 July 2022

Bookishness / Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne

Feather and Flame book cover shown next to book information: Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne (The Queen's Council #2), published June 14, 2022 by Disney Hyperion. Genre: Historical Fantasy. Audience: Young Adult

As a phoenix rises from the ashes,

And a dragon soars through the storm,

So an empress ascends.

It was a hot summer’s day in 1998 when my mom and I settled into our velour-covered seats, eager for the premiere of Disney’s animated Mulan. We weren’t the only Chinese Americans in the movie theater that day. Who could resist seeing the first East Asian Disney Princess in action, let alone one based on such a legendary female warrior? Yet from the first scenes with the matchmaker to the final fireworks over our new hero of China, my mom kept up a steady whisper about how un-Chinese it was. Disney’s rendition was a far cry from the Fa Mulan she had grown up with. My teenaged self, though, could relate so much to the character’s struggles with identity and belonging. Conclusion: Mulan must be American Born Chinese (ABC) like me! Not Chinese enough for some, yet different enough to stick out in the neighborhood.

Twenty-two years later, with the publication of Feather and Flame (The Queen's Council #2) by Livia Blackburne, we have a new sequel to the animated film that attempts to address some of these cultural gaps while keeping true to the Mulan many of us came to love on screen.

The story picks up a few years after the movie. Village life hasn’t slowed down our hero one iota. Mulan has built up a powerful all-female militia to protect her home region, and their success has reached the Emperor’s ears. Yet he has different ideas about Mulan’s destiny when he makes her his heir. The royal ministers aren’t happy about having a woman on the throne, though. Like vultures, they circle and taunt throughout the book, questioning whether Mulan truly has the Mandate of Heaven, the divine right to rule.