Review Blog

Dec 04 2019

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760876685.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. An engrossing retelling of the ancient ballad of Mulan will have fans of historical stories and martial arts with a dash of romance, grabbing this story as soon as it comes their way. It is China, 484 A.D. Mulan has trained to win a duel against her family's enemy, but when the Rouran invaders come into the north each family has to send one soldier to fight. Mulan's brother is too young and her father paralyzed, so disguised as a man, she sets out to join the army. Then she meets up with a young princeling with secrets, and together they cross the Great Wall of China, trying to find a traitor who is betraying their army.
Thomas is an author who previously has written award winning adult historical and romance novels, including two featuring a skilled Chinese heroine with a martial arts background, so she is eminently suited to writing this novel. Her descriptions of life in the Chinese court, the buildings and the upper class provide an in-depth background to the feud between the two families. The life of a soldier too, with all its trials, is vividly described and the readers will find themselves holding their breath as Mulan and Kai try to find where the enemy is camping and identify who is the traitor. Lots of twists and turns, deception, friendship and loyalty make this a great read.
It was interesting to find that the story is based on the real Ballad of Mulan, translated here. Thomas has also provided an interesting Author's note and Notes on language and historical miscellany. Teacher's tips are available from the publisher's website.
Anyone who enjoys a grand adventure with lots of action, great characters and splendid setting will love this story. Fans of Kristin Cashore, Robin Lafevers and Rachel Hartman will be happy to find another author who writes about a young woman who loves her family but is strong enough to break the stereotypes of her society.
Pat Pledger

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