Book Review: Mulan Faces Dangers Beyond the Battlefield in “Feather and Flame”

Author Livia Blackburne brings honor to a moving all-new story based on Disney’s Mulan in Feather and Flame.

Feather and Flame is the second book in the groundbreaking The Queen’s Council series. The novels in this series are some of my favorites as they see Disney Princesses come of age and into power aided by a mysterious and magical force that weaves their tales together. Author Emma Theriault kicked off the series with Belle’s story in the first book, Rebel Rose. (You can read my review of Rebel Rose here.) Blackburne equally enchants in Feather and Flame which takes readers on a reimagined journey with Mulan.

What is Feather and Flame about?

Following the war that made her a hero, Mulan spends her days training a militia of female warriors to protect their homes and lands. But when Shang arrives in her village with an invitation to the Imperial City from the emperor himself, her relatively peaceful life is upended. Upon her arrival at the palace, the aging emperor decrees that having proven herself a great leader in battle, Mulan will be his heir and take the throne. Mulan is unsure of this path for her future, but before she can decide whether to accept the responsibility, the emperor unexpectedly dies.

As soon as Mulan accepts the mantle of empress, it becomes clear that not everyone is on her side. Her ministers are working against her behind the scenes, and the Huns sense a weakness in the throne. When one of Mulan’s own militia members comes under suspicion as a traitor, Mulan has no idea whom she can trust. But the Queen’s Council helps Mulan uncover her true destiny.

A story full of heart and history

There are endless things to love about this story and The Queen’s Council series to date. The Queen’s Council itself will keep readers curious about how the Council manifests in each princess’s story. It is a magical and somewhat spiritual being or group, and in Feather and Flame readers learn that it “has no one true form. We have many faces and shapes. The next queen who needs our help may be in another time and place altogether, places far along and beyond the end of the silk road.” In slightly more concrete terms, the Queen’s Council is a mystical group of women who advise queens throughout history. Feather and Flame is set in 206 BCE-900 CE in China during the Han and Tang Dynasties. The blend of magic and history in these books is executed at a high level and it is impossible not only to enjoy the story but to admire the amount of research the authors embark upon. Blackburne deep-dived into Chinese culture and history during this period, as well as biographies of female warriors. Seriously, what is cooler than that?

Blackburne also does a stellar job of communicating flashbacks to the Disney film as memories which adds to the reader’s immersion in the story and Mulan’s character progression. Now a renowned hero after defeating the Huns, Mulan trains a militia of female warriors before being thrust into the Imperial City and taking on the highest-ranking position of all – Empress. Mulan finds a renewed strength and wisdom beyond the battlefield, and the transition from war hero to royalty is a complex, multilayered one, which will keep readers hooked until the end.

Mulan’s relationships, especially with Shang and the emperor, are dynamic and engaging. There is a beautiful, stoic silence between Mulan and Shang that is unique to their character and situation (as soldiers on the one hand, and as patient lovers on the other). Both characters have duties which compete with their affections and their story unfolds in an almost realistic way alongside the main plot. “[T]hey didn’t speak often. But Mulan felt as if a glow surrounded them” is a beautiful and apt description of their relationship throughout much of the story.

Mulan’s relationship with the emperor is also explored in exciting depth, and how the emperor sees Mulan vs. how Mulan sees herself provides a fascinating layer of complexity to not only their relationship and her own potential, but to Mulan’s feelings and the decisions that she must make throughout. A snapshot of this is provided by the following quote:

“It was absurd, the disconnect between the emperor’s words and Mulan’s own conception of herself. Yes, she supposed she had [become the hero whose quick thinking saved the country while risking great personal loss and dishonor], but she was also just Mulan, Fa Hsu’s daughter, who tripped over chickens and stole sweet buns from the kitchen.”

Crown or helmet, Mulan is meant to lead, and this fierce reimagining of the girl who became a warrior superbly blends history, fiction and Disney magic. This story will fan flames for Mulan admirers everywhere.

The Queen’s Council #2: Feather and Flame is now available.