This is a Mulan what-if story, that starts with Mulan, still known as foot-soldier Ping, in a snow covered mountain pass, with only one cannon shot left before China falls to the Huns and Shan-Yu. She's drawn into one-on-one sword battle with Shan-Yu and about to get killed, when Captain Li Shang rushes to save her, taking the sword strike that was meant for her instead.
She aims the cannon at the snow, and an avalanche stops the Huns, but Li Shang is done for. She won't leave him behind, not really realizing she's fallen in love with him. But he dies, and she's forced to go on a quest to the underworld to bring him back.
Li Shang's family stone lion, ShiShi, takes her to Diyu, the underworld, and she has to leave Mushu behind. I was kinda bummed about that. I love Mushu and all dragons in fantasy literature, really.
She petitions King Yama to let Shang free, and he grants her one chance to find him and convince him to go with her.
I'm not a big Disney princess fan, and honestly have never seen the Mulan movies, so as an introduction to her tale, this wasn't bad. I kinda liked being plunked down at the end of a middle of a hopeless battle, so I didn't have to wade through all the violence, and there was no obligatory princess at court scenes, which I also kinda appreciated. The portrayal of King Yama and Diyu was striking similar to The Dragon Warrior books I reviewed earlier this week.
It was a fun read, quickly devoured, and the romance is just a hint, more along the lines of devotion and providing her motivation to save Shang. There was little (almost no) kissing or heavy petting.