Cameron Dokey’s Wild Orchid is the retelling of the Ballad of Mulan, the story of a young Chinese girl who disguises herself as a boy and goes to battle to save her aged father from conscription. The original ballad is believed to have first been sung in the fourth century. In Wild Orchid Dokey successfully fleshes out the original ballad and adds romance to Mulan’s story. This book is part of the Once upon a time series brought out by Simon and Schuster. The series itself is a very interesting idea wherein old fairy tales and fables from across the world are retold with a new spin. These books provide you with a rare opportunity to look at tales from your childhood from a new perspective.
But back to Wild Orchid. The novel is named after the main protagonist. Mu-lan in Chinese means Wild Orchid, or so the author tells us. The daughter of China’s greatest general, Mulan does not meet her father till a little before her 14th birthday. Her mother died giving birth to her and this broke her father’s heart. So while he was busy fighting the Huns for China, young Mulan grew up into China’s most unconventional girl. Yes, she could sew and embroider like all dutiful girls (though she hated the later), but she could also climb trees, read, write, ride a horse, shoot with a bow and arrow and fence with a sword. In other words, she could do what most Chinese lads could – and in most cases much better than them – thanks to her childhood friend Li Po. Mulan’s carefree life changes when her father returns home after a battle injury. Soon China is under attack from the Huns again and every Chinese family has to send a man to fight. To save her father, 14 year old Mulan steals his battle horse and rides into the war where she meets the youngest Chinese prince. Together they endeavor to save China.
Wild Orchid is Mulan’s story and Dokey brings out her character beautifully. Her writing is simple and her characters real. Through her pen the reader experiences the heart ache of a child craving her father’s love, the confusion of a young girl when a stepmom is thrust upon her, the rebellion of a spirited lass determined to learn all that a boy could and the yearning of an individual to just be herself and follow her heart. The friendship between Mulan and Li Po is depicted beautifully. Dokey spends considerable time taking the reader through Mulan’s childhood. Thus she ensures that the reader understands every action and nuance of this fiercely loyal and brave girl. This is not a war story though one cannot be blamed for thinking thus initially. After all, the story begins by saying that it is the story of the girl who saved China. Yes, there is a war, one in which Mulan proves her mettle but the battle only takes up a few pages as does Mulan’s love story. In fact at times, the reader can’t help but feel that the author should have spent a little more time in developing the love story. Also at times, Mulan’s constant awareness of her being different gets annoying.
Does the Wild Orchid do justice to the original ballad? That is difficult to say. However it is highly recommended for those looking for a simple, light hearted and warm story.