Published by Allen & Unwin on 1 November 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, War & Military, Own Voices, Diversity
Mulan has been drilled in martial arts to fight the duel of her life - but what if her sworn enemy is also her secret love? A heart-thumping retelling that brings a much-loved heroine to life.
All her life, Mulan has trained for one purpose: to win the duel that every generation in her family must fight. Then a messenger from the Emperor arrives, demanding that all families send one soldier to fight the Rouran invaders in the north. Mulan's paralysed father cannot go, and her brother is just a child. So she ties up her hair, takes up her sword and joins the army as a man.
Thanks to her martial arts skills, Mulan is chosen for an elite team under the command of the princeling, the royal duke's son, to whom she feels a dangerous attraction. But the princeling has secrets of his own, which explode into Mulan's life and shake up everything she knows. As they cross the Great Wall to face the enemy beyond, Mulan and the princeling must find a way to unwind their past, unmask a traitor and uncover the plans for the Rouran invasion . . . before it's too late.
Inspired by wuxia martial-arts dramas as well as the centuries-old story of Mulan, The Magnolia Sword is a thrilling, romantic and sharp-edged novel that lives up to its beloved heroine.
Looking for a more accurate retelling of Mulan, rather than the Disney live action? Look no further than The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan! It’s based off the Ballad of Mulan poem from Northern Dynasties China, telling a story of a young girl who dresses up as a male and goes to fight the war for China. But there’s no Mushu or catchy tunes – instead, there’s a heavy focus on the historical tensions between Chinese nations during the War, uncovering the history behind Mulan and the prince, and wuxia martial art (which I lapped up)!
Highlighting Regional Differences Within China
Any novel set in historical China is going to be challenge, due to the amount of inconsistent recording of texts, but I loved how the author pieced together 484 AD China where Mulan’s journey begins. One thing I found interesting about the world of Magnolia Sword, is that we often think of China as a unified nation. But here we see a cultural melting pot of different regional influences within China, from the language, how their names have been adapted and even the marginalisation that people from different regions may experience (even between the nomadic Han Chinese and other regions such as Xianbei and Yuan). Ethnicity is never something that is homogenous, and Magnolia Sword highlights several differences within Ancient China, that leads to its unified identity today.
Traditional Chinese Values
As someone who was raised by traditional Chinese parents, I found many of the discussions about the role of respecting your elders, family loyalty, and even gendered roles to be very relatable. Magnolia Sword explores how traditional Chinese women are to behave when it comes to males, from their place in society, to how having sons is important (to pass on the family name), and how you’re taught to obey and to “be a good wife”. With her very presence and how she becomes a respected xiong-di (brother) within her peers in the army, Mulan battles against everything she’s brought up to believe in and what she believes is the right thing to do.
Even the background of Mulan’s upbringing and why she has been brought up with martial arts and dresses like a man is explored in depth. Following the death of her twin brother, her father has treated her like a son, and although she has never contested with his decision (after all, filial piety is a part of being a good daughter), her insecurities when it comes to her identity and belonging is explored.
I enjoyed the development between Mulan and Kai, the Princeling, especially when it came to their age long family history with one another, but I did wish there was more in the romantic department. I was a big fan of the martial arts within the book and how exciting the action scenes were, and even the history behind the named swords – Sky Blade and Sky Sea.
If you’re interested in knowing more about historical China or you want to know a bit more about Mulan than what the Disney movie offers, The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan is a fantastic #ownvoices Mulan retelling that does the story justice.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia for sending me a review copy!
The Magnolia Sword is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99 or from The Book Depository.
Click the arrow button on the right to see Bec’s mini review!
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