An obstinate girl who will not be married. A soldier desperate to prove himself. A kingdom on the brink of war.
With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady―which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls―and on the soldiers escorting them.
As the girls’ military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust―and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom.
Note: Spoilers, but just because I really want to talk about things.
Two book reviews!! In one week!! Can you believe it!!
Would you also believe it if I said I picked this up not knowing it was a retelling of the Mulan legend? I had absolutely no idea. So you can imagine when I went to go read some reviews going into it and found this out, I was pretty ecstatic. Mulan was my favourite Disney princess movie growing up, and I am down for any kind of literature related to her.
Anyway, I was simultaneously impressed and also kind of neutral towards this book. On one hand, a Mulan retelling! On the other hand, parts of it fell a bit flat, and I never truly felt that I was falling deep into the story, even though a lot happened. I did like the take on the legend – which is really more of a spin-off – although it seems that some of the Chinese influence was stripped away. I get that it’s fantasy which can essentially mean anything is possible, but… I did like the perspective of the matchmaking, and I especially liked Clare, who provided the much needed voice of a girl who is being forced to marry someone she doesn’t want to. I love that Sage was a tutor, and I think having her be part of providing education for others is a great detail to include.
I was super confused by the whole prince/Ash Carter/Captain Quinn thing. I’m not sure if maybe it was revealed at the beginning and I just wasn’t paying attention, or it was supposed to be really obvious and we are supposed to put it together on our own, but I had a really hard time combining Captain Quinn and Sage’s Ash into one person. I feel like I should have seen that coming, but I definitely didn’t. Picture me having my mind blown, but not in a cool and amazing way, more like a confused one.
(Kind of like this.)
For me, it felt like an entire character I had built up in my head had completely disappeared. I just couldn’t seem to connect the person he was before, and the person he was after. Not to mention that a real Ash Carter exists and shows up later, and we are expected to…not have a connection to him? But anyway. Then again, Disney Mulan fell in love with the captain and not some random sergeant. So maybe I should have seen that coming. (I do remember thinking it was weird that Quinn was not the love interest based on that fact, but now it’s obvious I am super blind and couldn’t see what was probably obvious.)
But if I am right and it’s supposed to be a huge reveal that Ash is actually Captain Quinn, that would be SO HARD to make happen in a movie? How would you hide the fact that he’s two different characters??
As I said before, I never really felt that we were that deep into the story. Which is a weird thing to say, because there are a few battles and fights and a bit of murder from all sides (RIP Charlie). But it felt like we were only really scraping the surface of what was there. The writing was just fine and I quite enjoyed it, but I feel like it wasn’t quite enough. The parts that should have been dramatic weren’t really, but the parts that were not that exciting were definitely written with a dramatic flair. I’m not really sure what I’m saying here, but anyway. It’s not very often that I think things should be longer, but the more I ponder about it, the more I realise that the action sequences weren’t given near enough attention as the stagnant ones. For readers who need that action to keep interested, I can definitely see why the first parts would seem slow. I think it could have been balanced out with more at the end.
I also never truly understood what Sage’s role was? Either I skimmed too much, or it was not fully explained? And especially why it was so important that nobody knew she was Darnessa’s assistant. Also something I didn’t fully comprehend was the idea of the Consortium, and why some girls were “promised” to it but others were not. Overall now that I’m looking back at it, I think a little more exposition would have been super handy. Just a little paragraph like “hey, this is how this world works, take notes.” I do have a note I wrote at the beginning that read “hey, why so many names,” but I wouldn’t consider that exposition because there was literally no explanation as to what they really meant. Also, I forgot there was a map at the front of the book the entire time, so maybe that would have helped. Basically maybe I should just pay attention more?
The relationship between Sage and Ash was SUPER CUTE. At first. I know it’s not enemies to lovers, really, but it was close enough which was fine by me. I thought it was really interesting that they both had secrets they were keeping from one another, and they were both trying to find out the other’s secrets without letting out their own. It’s an interesting dynamic. Also, there was TOTALLY tension with neither of them really wanting to be attracted to each other but couldn’t help it against their best judgement. Which was so great. However, there were a few times that I rolled my eyes at Ash and his inner misogyny. There were quite a few times where Sage would say something, and he would be gobsmacked that her plan or idea would actually work. I mean, she’s one of the most educated people in the book, so I don’t understand why it’s a surprise that she has great, life-saving ideas? On the other hand, why can she come up with all these good plans and the army cannot. Like come on.
But the moment Ash/Quinn revealed his secret…their relationship no longer felt interesting. Which is weird to think, because there’s even more of the whole “I want you but I don’t want you” thing, which I thought I’d be into but I wasn’t. And once the secret identity was revealed, it was like all of a sudden the intensity of their feelings skyrocketed. Before they were just grappling with the idea of being attracted to one another, but after it was like they would die to save the other and life was not worth living if they had to live it alone. It was almost like instalove, even though this was well into the book. It got a bit tedious after awhile, especially on Ash/Quinn’s side (I’m still getting over the identity thing. Give me time. I was attached to Ash.)
Reading over this now I realise that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to say that I enjoyed and liked reading this book. But I really did, and I found myself really looking forward to the times of day that I had free time to read, which doesn’t always happen. I’ve often thought that a fantasy’s flaws can more easily be hidden with good writing and an interesting idea, and I think that may be the case here. Even though I came out not really following a lot of things, I’m not really that upset about it (unless it turns out that we knew who Ash/Quinn was all along, then I definitely need to pay more attention). I think the main thing though that kept me going and interested was the fact that it was retelling of Mulan, which I enthusiastically adore to this day. There are a ton of retellings out there, and most of them are quite good, and while I do love most of the stories they are based on, none yet had been my absolute favourite, and Mulan was. So, I think of this as my Beauty and the Beast retelling. Or my Cinderella retelling. It means a lot more to me because I love the source material. Also, I immediately ordered the second book from the library before I even finished the first one, which almost never happens. So that really must be a sign.
ALSO THE COVER IS GORG EXCELLENT WORK TO THE COVER ARTIST.
Final rating: ★★★.5