The Twisted Tales series is a series that takes beloved Disney classics and gives it a spin with a single question. It currently has twelve books out ranging from several princess movies like Aladdin, Frozen, and the Little Mermaid (among others) as well as other Disney movies like Alice and Wonderland and Peter Pan, and has a thirteenth novel based on the 2009 Princess and the Frog movie coming out in September. They are an interesting what if type story on Disney movies, and I don’t believe they plan on stopping anytime soon (there isn’t anything expected after Almost There, but I’m sure the series will continue after Almost There, and I have heard a rumors about a Pinocchio book).
of the twelve books currently published, I have read three of them: Go the Distance (What if Meg Had to Become a Greek God?), What Once was Mine (What if Rapunzel’s Mother Drank a Potion from the Wrong Flower?), and the topic of this review, Reflection (What if Mulan Had to Travel to the Underworld?). I also have A Whole New World (Aladdin), Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid), Tale as Old as Time (Beauty and the Beast), and Almost There (Princess and the Frog) on my To-Read list.
Out of the three I’ve read, I’d say Reflection is my favorite. Not only because it’s based on one of my favorite Disney movies and my favorite Disney princess, but because I found it the more interesting of the three. However, I do love how Go the Distance explores the Hades-Persephone dynamic. It’s a lighter toned take on the myth, and fits the tone Disney would probably take with it, had they done so.
Picking up after the battle with the Huns, Shang is mortally wounded. The only way to save him is if “Ping” goes to the underworld, Diyu, to bring his soul back. While King Yama, the king of Diyu, is not willing to release Shang’s soul without a fight, Mulan is on limited time. With help from ShiShi, Shang’s great lion guardian, she goes deeper into Diyu to find Shang, and with the secret that she is actually a woman slowly coming to light, trust is called into question.
Will Mulan be able to save Shang? Will trust be restored? Will everyone get out in one piece, or will they be lost in Diyu forever?
The concept of this story was really interesting to me. Shang being mortally wounded instead of Mulan is an interesting spin on the fight in the mountain. And her going to Diyu to save Shang is a concept that I feel works and adds a nice extended fantasy element to the story.
While I am not as knowledgeable about Chinese mythology and folklore, I do think there is accuracy in Reflection. However, I’m sure anyone more familiar with Chinese folklore and mythology can confirm how accurate exactly better than I could. The most I know is aspects of Journey to the West, which is a well known tale and was what Dragon Ball took inspiration from (which, fun fact, has a character named King Yemma in it’s sequel series, who appears to be inspired by King Yama, who makes an appearance here).
I also like how when Shang learns that Ping is a woman named Mulan, I did like how it wasn’t immediately resolved. There was time to reflect on the trust that was broken and there was some work involved when forgiving Mulan. Because while I know Mulan’s reasons for lying were honorable, being for her father’s well being and safety, the bond Shang and the other soldiers had with Ping would certainly be called into question when it’s revealed that Ping isn’t actually Ping. So not glossing over it was good.
I also kind of liked how it addressed the Great Stone Dragon bit from the beginning of the movie. As I’m sure you may know, assuming you’ve seen the 1998 animated movie, The Fa family has a stone dragon on their property, referred to as the Great Stone Dragon by the ancestors. And when asked to awaken him, Mushu accidently breaks the statue.
In Reflection ShiShi, who is Shang’s family (animal) guardian, was familiar with the Fa family and their family guardian. Which just so happened to be the Great Stone Dragon. This gets brought up because ShiShi is perplexed by the small size of Mushu and expecting the Fa family’s guardian to be bigger and fiercer.
It has been a while since I have read the book, so I can’t remember if I had any flaws upon my initial read, unlike some books I’ve recently reviewed. However, I do plan on rereading it so I can log it on Goodreads, so I may find something I missed. That said, I wouldn’t say it was flawless. If I had to think of anything, it might have felt a bit formulaic. It took chances and explored some interesting concepts, though.
I would give this book an eighty five percent. Out of the Twisted Tales stories I’ve read, this was probably one of the better ones. At least in my opinion. It was a neat way to approach Mulan’s story. It was interesting to see how they addressed the underworld aspect with elements from Chinese lore.
It was also cool to see how they addressed Mulan’s whole secret and the revelation that Ping was, in fact, a woman. As well as addressing one or two elements from the 1998 movie that never really got much discussion. And while maybe not a perfect story, if you enjoy Mulan, I would certainly say it is worth the read.